Erica Brown






Leadership in the Wilderness represents years of studying and teaching leadership and years of studying and teaching the Hebrew Bible.


This book brings those worlds together through essays on a much neglected book of the Bible: the book of Numbers. Musicals have taught us Genesis. Movies have taught us Exodus, but only failure teaches us to read Numbers. The transition time between leaving oppression and arriving at the Promised Land took us to a desert that tested us and our leadership. That transition taught us a great deal about what it takes to prepare and confront uncertainty and how important vision is when you are not sure where you are or where you are going. It takes great leadership to rebuild trust after authority breaks down.


I have always been intrigued by power and powerlessness and how power within institutions works. Spending time in sacred pages helped me understand why truths about human adventures so long ago still hold truths about human nature today and how the wilderness is an apt and poignant metaphor for leadership.


I loved writing Happier Endings. It was an experiment for me, and it took a lot out of me. Jon Karp from Simon and Schuster challenged me to write a book to help people die better. There must be a better way. Of course there must be, but what was it?


As always, when I write a book, I start by reading. I order a mountain of books on a subject, plow through them and try to organize my thoughts in relation to what others think. The first iteration of the book was pretty academic. I was still distant from the subject. Jon read it and said, "Stories, Erica. Stories." He was right. And so I had to let go of the words of others - the researchers and the textbooks - and instead enter the world of pain and suffering of friends and strangers. And what a remarkable universe it was.


Those strangers became friends, sisters and brothers who taught me how to how to die better and through forgiveness and regret, meaningful last words and last gifts, showed me how to live better.


I don't know about you, but I am getting a little tired of all the words spilled over the war in Gaza: the talking heads, the inane Facebook posts, the political rhetoric, the empty words, the angry words, the uncharitable words. So few of these words add clarity. They don't even add confusion. They just add to the mountain of talk that dissipates quickly when you see one profound visual image of anguish on either side.


I thought of this frustration when I encountered the following passage in the daily cycle of Talmud study this week: "What is the meaning of this that is written: 'For You, silence is praise [Psalms 65:2]? The best remedy of all is silence. When Rabbi Dimi came [from Israel to Babylonia], he said: In the West [Israel], they say, 'If a word is worth one sela, silence is worth two'" [BT Megilla 18a]. I know what you're thinking: how much is a sela worth? Is it worth it to be quiet? Well in the days of the Talmud we used the Roman monetary system, and a sela was called a Tyrian Tetradrachm. 1,500 selas make up one talent, and 3,000 selas make the equivalent of a Biblical shekel, according to my research. What this means is that your silence is not worth very much, but it is worth twice your words!


One later Talmud commentator interprets this to mean that coming up with an appropriate comment is worth one sela, but refraining from making an inappropriate comment is worth twice as much. Wit is always trumped by restraint. This makes sense. While we may regret not sharing a poignant observation or clever retort, that missed opportunity will always be easier to live with than the insult, hurt or backhanded compliment that we do say. Rabbi Judah the Pious [R. Yehuda Ha-Hasid], a medieval scholar...


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Forthcoming Books

Happier Endings

Leadership in the


Let Silence Speak


"When I speak, I have reason to regret. But when I am silent, I have nothing to regret. Before I speak, I am master over my words; once the words leave my mouth, they rule over me."

Rabbi Judah the Pious

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