THE HOLIDAY OF PESACH CELEBRATES FREEDOM. THE EXODUS OUT OF EGYPT FOLLOWING CENTURIES OF SERVITUDE IS A TESTAMENT TO THE TRIUMPH OF GOOD OVER EVIL AND OF LIGHT OVER DARKNESS. TRUE, THE FOCAL POINT OF THE PASSOVER NARRATIVE IS INDEPENDENCE, LIBERTY AND THE RIGHT FOR SELF DETERMINATION, BUT THERE SEEMS TO BE ANOTHER VERY KEY DETAIL IN THE STORY, THAT OF GREAT AND GRACEFUL LEADERSHIP, ONE WHICH CALLED FOR INTELLIGENCE, COMPASSION, RESOLVE, HUMILITY AND COURAGE, TRAITS WHICH MOSES DELIVERED ON ALL COUNTS, AND MUCH MORE.
By Rabbi Ariel Yeshurun
TRADITIONS – PASSOVER
At the end, Deuteronomy in the Torah portion Vayelech, Moses passes the mantle of leadership to Joshua, announcing him as his successor. It’s a shame Korach is not alive to see this. His rebellion in the desert was a complaint about Moses’ supposed nepotism—Moses is the leader, his brother Aaron is the High Priest, etc.—but when Moses hands out the biggest position of all, that of his successor, it goes to Joshua, a complete outsider, with no family or political connections. He is simply the best person for the job. We see something similar with King Saul (Shaul) when he is appointed as the first king of Israel. He comes from nowhere. The prophet Samuel (Shmuel) is told by G-d to appoint him, but no one—Samuel included—has ever heard of him. What Jews value in a leader is very different than what one sees in the rest of the world. A leader is not chosen for his oratory. If Moses had needed to debate against a US president, perhaps he would have lost. A leader is not chosen for how much he appeals to the electorate. A Jewish leader is chosen for very different reasons. He is chosen for his humility. Moses and Saul had something in common: Neither was interested in the job, and that’s what made them the ideal candidates, because it’s so hard for a leader to distinguish between his desire to serve the people and his desire to serve himself. The desire for honor and power are two of the strongest forces known to mankind and it is so easy to be seduced. If a leader has these desires before he even gets to office, he’ll struggle all the more till once he’s there. Moses and Saul had the quality of humility, which meant that they had no interest in the power or the honor that came with their position. Once there, they were committed solely to serving the nation. Democracy has many, many advantages, but one of its great failings, almost wherever one looks, is that self-serving people are the most likely to reach the top. The Sages tell us why Joshua merited to become the leader: he would stay behind in the study hall at night and tidy the room. It was not beneath his dignity to do this because it was done in service of the nation. He did what needed to be done, when it needed to be done, no matter what people might think. Let us take a close look at some of Moses’ most striking leadership qualities, qualities that if only we can somehow live up to in our own small way, can allow us to begin to understand the exceptional and extraordinary individual Moses was.
CHARISMA AND PEOPLE MANAGEMENT
The Midrash tells us that Moses had many names. Notwithstanding, the name Moshe, given to him by Batya, Pharaoh’s daughter, is the name this great leader is known by. This name means to draw. It was chosen by Batya after she drew him from the Nile (Exodus 2:10). In its deeper sense this drawing refers to the ability of any great leader to draw his subjects close to his ideology, draw them close together and unify them around his ideas creating a strong, solid following. In Moshe’s case he demonstrated the ability to draw the people together, unify them and draw them close to HaShem and the Torah. In addition, a wise leader does not operate alone, rather he utilizes, exploits and manipulates the resources, strengths and weaknesses of his “flock.” He, so to speak, draws on their talents, skills and personal capabilities, all of which are at his disposal, in order to harness his followers’ full potential and lead them with great efficiency and harmony.FEELING AS AN EQUAL WITH HIS FOLLOWERS AND ASSOCIATING WITH THE PAIN OF OTHERS
Moses grows up as a prince on Pharaoh’s lap. He was not exposed or subjected to the harsh treatment as his fellow Jews were. The torah says that Moshe goes out to his “brothers” and witnesses their pain (Exodus 2:11). Growing in the palace far away from the Jewish community, enjoying royal status, riches, glamour and fame should have created a tremendous disconnect, but despite all this, Moshe considers the Jews his brothers. He associates with their pain and affiliates with their plight. The Midrash tells us that Moshe physically joined his fellow Jews in the hard labor.
STANDS UP FOR THE WEAK AND COMPASSIONATE FOR HIS PEOPLE EVEN WHEN THEY FAIL:
Moshe risks his reputation, status and life by smiting the Egyptian officer when defending an oppressed Jew” (Exodus 2: 12). Moshe stands up for the right thing and stops at nothing to bring about justice. This conviction he shows even in regards to disputes amongst his own people, as is evident in the episode of the fight between Datan and Aviram, and Moshe stepping in to end it (Exodus 2:13). In addition, when the Jewish people stray and are pending punishment from G-d, Moshe intervenes on their behalf, prevents destruction and obtains forgiveness.
Moshe argues at the Burning Bush that he is not worthy of such leadership (Exodus 3:11). Moshe doubts that the Jews will ever believe him (Exodus 4:1). He is given signs and wonders to perform and all his concerns are addressed. Finally he tries one last trick: I stutter he says… (Exodus 4: 10). When even that is addressed by G-d, Moshe “throws in the towel” and concludes by asking that G-d to send someone else (Exodus 4: 13). He insists to the point of angering G-d.
LEADS TRUTHFULLY WITH DISREGARD TO POPULARITY
Moshe is criticized time and again by fractions of the community to the point of rebellion, resulting in life threatening situations. These accusations come as an angry response of rebel rousers towards Moses for taking a stand and advocating the truth. Moshe follows his beliefs and the word of G-d despite it not being the most popular, convenient and easy way.
COURAGE TO CONFESS MISTAKES PUBLICLY
Moses describes the disastrous episode of agreeing to let spies go into the Land of Israel, and says that initially the idea found favor in my eyes (Deuteronomy 1:23). It was one of the most devastating events in Jewish history. It was the very act that caused the Jews to wander in the desert for forty years and resulted in many of them never being able to enter the Land of Israel. It is the reason for all of our exiles, persecutions and holocaust. But as catastrophic as it was, Moses still had the courage to say that “the idea was good in my eyes.”
UNWAVERING AND UNSHAKEN SELF ESTEEM
The higher our self-esteem, more readily we will be to admit our mistakes made because we don’t see poor decisions as a reflection of our own self-worth. This is rarely how leaders or people act today. All too often, heads of corporations, governments, or households back away from their previous words if the results turn out differently than they had believed. This isn’t leadership. Leadership is about being honest and having the trust of those who believe in and follow you. Like most people, they don’t want to look foolish—and they believe that admitting they made a mistake makes them look foolish. It doesn’t.
Ironically, it shows you to be a man or woman of conviction who isn’t afraid to stand up when you make a mistake. Taking responsibility will always make you feel great.
ABILITY TO ADMIT TO NOT ALWAYS KNOWING THE ANSWER
Moshe admits his mistake by attempting to judge the entire nation without delegating some of the judicial responsibilities to others. He accepts his father in-laws’ (Jethro) criticism in this regard and changes the judicial system to include a hierarchy of judges and elders. Moshe also admits to not knowing the law on a few occasions (i.e. one being that of the daughters of Tzlofchad who wanted to know if they are entitled to inherit land due to the fact that they had no brothers). Moshe brings their matter before G-d to decide
COMPLETE, SILENT, SELFLESS DEDICATION TO A MENTOR
Parshat Pinchas tells of the heroic deed of Pinchas, who with a spear in his hand saved the Jewish people from a plague of immorality. When the moment called for bold action, Pinchas was ready and willing to step forward. Later in the parsha, G-d announces Joshua as Moshe’s successor. The Talmud explains that the greatness of Joshua was that he stayed by Moses’ side day-in, day-out. Joshua didn’t perform any incredible heroics that earned him front-page headlines. But in his own quiet and consistent way, Joshua made it his priority to emulate Moshe and learn the lessons of leadership. He started from rock bottom as the Talmud says: Joshua came to the synagogue early each morning to help set up the chairs! Humble acts of dedication are valued more than dramatic demonstrations of bravery. Teachers, public servants, dedicated parents are true Jewish heroes and leaders.
TOTAL CARE AND FULL RESPONSIBILITY EVEN AFTER STEPPING DOWN
G-d showed Moses the Land of Israel and told him that he wouldn’t be allowed to bring the Jewish people into the Land. When he heard this, his knee-jerk response was not focused on his own fate, but rather to make sure that the Jews would still have someone in his absence who would continue to lead them, and he immediately got busy with choosing a successor. This is why Moses was one of the greatest leaders ever. The true colors of a leader are on full display when he leaves his leadership position so all those who believed in him, his vision, and his dream, may fulfill it without him. As stated above, in the beginning of parashat D’varim, Moses tells the Jewish people of additional details of events that occurred since they left Egypt. He goes into the unfortunate episode of the spies, but even after its failure, Moses still had the courage to say the famous “the idea was good in my eyes.” (Deuteronomy 1:23). How many times have you seen people back-track on something they said if events prove their position wrong? It seems that many people, when something they say doesn’t work out, quickly re-write history by changing what they said, the ideas they vividly expressed, or views they had just passionately given. But Moses, being the great person and leader that he was, said to everyone that “the idea was good in my eyes.” Today, many leaders back track. Do these leaders really believe that people have that short of a memory? The answer is: they really don’t care. They don’t care because the real reason why people choose to re-write history is because of their own lack of self-esteem. They believe that admitting to their mistakes is a blow to their self-esteem, when in fact it’s a huge boost to it, and that not admitting their mistakes makes them a fraud. When we hold ourselves in high self-esteem, we know that any mistake we make can never damage our worth. Since people always learn and grow from their mistakes, we can actually gain self-esteem if we err because we know it will only make us better people in the end. People with low esteem, however, fear how people view them if they admit to making a mistake. So instead of owning up to it, like politicians they chose to recreate the events of the past to be viewed in the best possible light. But again, ironically, your self-image actually gets stronger when you admit you made a mistake.
As for Moshe, the Torah concludes: “VELO KAM NAVI OD BEYISRAEL KEMOSHE ASHER YEDAO HASHEM PANIM EL PANIM.” (Deuteronomy 34: 10). There are good leaders, great leaders and then there is the greatest leader of them all!
My wife and children join me in wishing you a very happy and joyous Passover!