In or Out?

From: Barry

Dear Rabbi,

I have a problem at work. There is a long-time manager who does a decent job, but there are those who are not satisfied with the way he runs things. These employees are trying to oust him, and are putting a lot of pressure on others to join them. There is one man in particular who has taken the lead, and it seems he’s interested in being the one to replace the current manager. So a type of tension has developed around this, and I’m at a loss as to which side to take, if any, and what to do. Perhaps the manager is lacking talent, but it’s not clear the other would be any better. Also, the way he and his “faction” are acting is not very peaceful. It seems they are more interested in change than in improvement. Otherwise, they would work together with the manager to make things better, rather than to replace him. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated!

Dear Barry,

This is a difficult issue, particularly since there are so many details that I cannot possibly be aware of.

Certainly change with the intention to improve is desirable. And often, drastic changes are needed to correct problems which have become entrenched as a result of long-term mismanagement, neglect, apathy or just inertia.

On the other hand, much injustice and harm may be done by those whose sole agenda is change and not improvement, particularly when it is they who will gain control, which they present as being for the common good.

Based on what you have described, it sounds like this manager may not be the greatest, but he’s not so bad. He has also held the position for a long time. Assuming that’s not because of favoritism, force or foul play, this means that he’s basically acceptable. Also, you indicate that the reformers don’t want to work with him to improve the situation, but rather to replace him. This suggests an “agenda”. Otherwise, unless this manager is a power hungry tyrant, changes could be made within the organization under his leadership, which would make room for renewal, and the introduction of new people with fresh ideas and talent.

If in your estimation this analysis is correct, I would recommend that you stay out of the conflict. Rather, validate the good points of each side and urge them all to work together for the good of all. If both sides are basically well-intentioned and interested in improvement, even if they have different ideas about what that is, you and others may be able to effect a compromise.

In the event that the sides could not reach a compromise, or that it turns out to be simply a power struggle, and one side eventually prevails over the other, even though neither camp would view you as a partisan supporter, each would view you as a team player worth keeping on the team.

This reminds me of the famous conflict for leadership waged by Korach against Moshe (Num. 16). Korach was greedy, jealous and power hungry, but charismatic and convincing, leading a rebellion in which he hoped to replace G‑d’s appointed leaders, Moshe and Aharon, and become the leader of the Jewish People instead. He amassed many important followers, who cajoled and pressured others to join them.

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 109b) relates how the wise intervention of the wife of one of Korach’s followers spared him from the evil fate of the rest:

A man named On, the son of Pelet, was saved by his wife. She argued, “What difference does it make to you who wins, such that you should take sides? If Korach wins, you’ll be his subordinate, and if Moshe wins you’ll be his.” He countered, “What can I do? I joined counsel with them and pledged my allegiance to them.” She said, “I know they are all “holy” men and a “holy” congregation. Stay put, and I’ll extract you from them.”

On the day appointed for the rebellion, she brought him wine, got him drunk, and put him to bed in the tent. She then uncovered her hair and sat outside of the tent. Anyone from Korach’s camp who called upon him to join the insurrection recoiled from the improper sight of On’s wife and turned away. In the meantime, Korach and his “holy” congregation were all swallowed by the earth, while On, whose wise and self-sacrificing wife kept him safely out of the conflict, was saved!

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