We took a little three-day family outing last week, bringing loads of luggage to New York City, the land of “everything.” We left home an hour-and-a-half past our estimated departure time (don’t ask). Ten or 15 minutes into the trip, we had to turn around and come back home to get a forgotten item (really don’t ask). And I couldn’t help but wonder how Moses managed to get a few million Jews out the door carrying all of their possessions, leaving Egypt in one fell swoop.

In the Torah portion Bo, we see the unfolding of the last three plagues, the laws of Passover and the leaving of Egypt. That’s a lot of stuff for Moses to be dealing with, and so I was curious about the insertion of two lines that seemed really incongruous. G‑d said to Moses and Aaron: “This month shall be for you the beginning of the months. It shall be for you the first of the months of the year.”Embedded in these two cryptic lines is the command to sanctify the new moon (Rosh Chodesh) and also to ensure that Passover always occurs in the spring season.

Controlling (and Managing) Time

In essence, in the middle of one of the biggest events in history, G‑d commanded Moses to create a “calendar”—and not just any calendar—but a unique calendar based on both the lunar months and the solar year. In fact, the Jewish calendar is the only calendar based on both the sun and the moon. Only these two systems (lunar and solar) are not in sync; thus, it requires adding “pregnant years” with an extra month and other adjustments to reconcile the two over a perpetual 19-year cycle. What was so important that it had to be commanded on the eve of leaving Egypt, and why make it so complicated?

The Hebrew word for Egypt is Mitzrayim, from the word meitzar, which means “narrow” or “constricted.” In leaving Egypt, the Jewish people were going from narrowness to expansion, from a bounded country to a limitless open desert, from slavery to freedom.

One of the hallmarks of being a slave is the inability to control anything, specifically time. When G‑d commanded us to be in charge of publicly announcing the new moon (Rosh Chodesh/the new month), we were given the gift of being able to declare and sanctify time itself. And as the Jewish people were coming into their newly liberated status, it was important that they understood that freedom is not the same as a “free-for-all,” and that expansion and freedom requires a balanced approach.

Masculine and Feminine Energy

Jewish mysticism teaches us that the differences between the sun and the moon are not just physical, but spiritual, and that the masculine spiritual energy of giving (the sun) and the feminine spiritual energy of receiving (the moon) are two cosmic forces that need to be brought into balance and harmony.

The characteristics of masculine energy are “top-down;” they are proactive, exert will, impose external solutions, fix situations, overcome and emit. When masculine energy interacts with the world, the predominant energy is the execution of the will of the giver or executor. The characteristics of feminine energy, on the other hand, are “bottom-up”; they see potential, cultivate, build, reveal innate qualities and transform. When feminine energy interacts with the world, the emphasis is on the receiver, not the giver.

This is not about being a man or a woman. These are energies and qualities that we all have, and it goes back to the beginning, with the creation of Adam, that occurs in two parts. First, as a being created in the image of G‑d, Adam was given dominion over everything. If it crawled, walked, swam or flew, Adam was in charge. This was proactive masculine energy. Second, when G‑d blew His breath into Adam’s nostrils, placed him in Garden of Eden and told him to “tend it,” Adam was tasked with care-taking, cultivating and nurturing. This was feminine energy. We need both energies, both ways of being, but to be a free and fully functioning person, we need to know “when to be what.”

The Right Time for Everything

There are times when we need an immediate solution to something—where there is a crisis, calling for fast and effective leadership in a top-down, strong way. And there are times when leadership serves by building consensus, collaborative brainstorming, building relationships and cultivating talent. There are times when we need to impart concepts and information, and times when we want to foster the process of learning. There is a time to be active and a time to be passive; a time to be the conqueror and a time to be the cultivator.

In Built to Last, authors Collins and Porras conducted a six-year study at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, studying 18 truly exceptional and long-lasting companies, as well as their direct competitors. They were looking for an answer to the question: “What makes the truly exceptional companies different from the comparison companies, and what were the common practices these enduringly great companies followed throughout their history?” In other words, was there a secret to their success?

And what they found was that exceptionally visionary and enduring companies all shared this in common: They knew “when to be what.” They knew when to be hierarchical and when to be flat, when to micro-manage and when to full-out delegate. They had a fixed core of values, as well as the flexibility to change on a dime. By being able to embrace both sides of the coin, they knew “what to do when” and “when to be what.”

Jewish mysticism teaches that the era of redemption will see the return of feminine energy. Masculine energy can win a war and impose a ceasefire, but true peace is a bottom-up, an inside-out process. In the times of the Messiah, said the prophet Isaiah, “the light of the moon shall be like the light of the sun.” Thus, these cosmic forces and energies will be in balance and harmony.

When we left Egypt, we received the Torah, and we were tasked with being the light unto nations. We have to be conscious of our ability to receive and our strength to give. We must be conscious of our collective soul, as well as our individual missions, and to bring our families, our communities, the world, and ultimately ourselves, into a state of balance. When the whole world knows “when to be what,” the sun and moon will be equal. This is what freedom looks like, and this is why we were freed from Egypt—for the purpose of balance, harmony and ultimate redemption.

Internalize & Actualize:

  1. Has there been a situation that you met with a proactive, forceful, task-oriented, decisive and immediate energy, which could have been better-served if you had met it with a nurturing, collaborative, long-term, team-building and receptive energy? How about the reverse? List at least one situation from each.
  2. Is there a situation right now that would benefit from your immediate attention and action? What do you need to be doing right now that you are avoiding taking on? Which approach do you want to take, and does that differ from the approach you should take?
  3. Think about your hesitation to either tap into the more active, top-down approach or the more passive, bottom-up approach. Where do you think that hesitation comes from? Do you assign the roles to gender; for example, do you feel you are being too manly if you do things a certain way? Write down five ways you could incorporate the less natural approach to you that you feel would improve and benefit these areas in your life (being more assertive when speaking to co-workers, not criticizing as much when your children/spouse admit a mistake, etc.).