In Plain Language: Follow the leader
We are going back to the polls not only to elect a Knesset, but to chart the country’s course for the foreseeable future.
Ballots are printed ahead of elections Photo: REUTERS/Baz Ratner
The country’s most oft-asked question, “Ma yihye?” – What will be? – has been
supplanted, at least for several weeks, with the plaintive “L’mi tatzbia?” – Who
are you voting for? For the first time in several years, we are going back to
the polls, not only to elect a Knesset, but to chart the country’s course for
the foreseeable future. As in all Israeli elections, there is intrigue, scandal
and an (over)abundance of parties.
The leader of one party is under
indictment; the leader of another is an ex-con; and the single-largest
vote-getter in our last election has been reduced to running an “it’s all about
me” faction with her own name in lights.
The Left is in disarray; the
Right isn’t far behind.
Help! Has anyone seen a leader out there?!
There’s an old joke about a synagogue looking to rid itself of its rabbi, who,
shall we say, is less than popular (when he landed in the hospital with kidney
stones, the board voted 12-9 he should have a complete recovery). So the
president calls up another synagogue, whose own rabbi has just retired, and
persuades its congregation to take this fellow off their hands.
president lavishes the rabbi with praise, recommending him highly, even telling
his colleague at the other synagogue: “Our rabbi is like Abraham Lincoln and
Moses all rolled into one!” Well, they hire the rabbi, and no surprise, he is a
They call back the president and scream, “Why did you tell
us he was like Abe Lincoln and Moses?!” “Simple,” comes the reply. “Like
Lincoln, he speaks no Hebrew; and like Moses, when he does talk, you can’t
understand a word he’s saying!”
BUT ALL jokes aside, if there is any model of a
leader in our long and stellar history, it has to be Moses. He took a ragtag,
divided and disgruntled group of slaves and forged them into the great nation we
are today. How did he do it? Moses was a man of contrasts. He was raised in the
palace, at ease with the ruling nobility, yet he retained an amazing sense of
humility throughout his life. He empathized and identified with his people,
often prefacing his remarks with “This nation, of which I am but a
In fact, say the sages, God ultimately chose him because he
exhibited great compassion for even the lowliest sheep, carrying one on his back
when it lost his way. “This,” says God, “is a metaphor for what a true leader
must do on behalf of his people.”
Moses shook and shuddered at the
awesome responsibility of taking the helm, yet he was not afraid, when
necessary, to stand up to anyone and everyone – even God Himself – in support of
the nation. He could be at once our prosecutor – rebuking our transgressions,
castigating us for small-mindedness and cynicism – and our fiercest defender. He
was slow of speech when it came to accepting personal accolades, yet quick to
anger when his subjects were attacked. He filled the highest posts in the
country – king, priest, prophet and general – yet he most cherished the title
that ultimately stuck with him: Rabbeinu, our teacher.
too-many-to-list accomplishments, two aspects of Moses’s legacy stand out in my
Among the first charges God gave him was “to release the Israelites
from their burden in Egypt.” Utilizing their rabbinic license to the full, the
commentators slightly tweak the Hebrew word for “burden” – “sivlot” – and
translate it to mean “tolerance” – savlanut. Moses’s first order of business was
to convince the slaves that they needn’t tolerate the state of degradation that
had been imposed upon them, that they were deserving of a far better fate than
that which they were enduring. He had to break them of the “I’ve grown
accustomed to your mace” mentality, whereby they accepted their pitiful
condition with barely a whimper.
Moses did this by building up their
sense of pride, reminding them of their illustrious ancestry; thus he first
referred to the Almighty when speaking to the nation as “the God of Abraham,
Isaac and Jacob, your direct ancestors.”
He called us “the Chosen People,
a Treasured Nation, the Kingdom of Priests.”
He restored our dignity and
self-respect, the primary building-blocks of any civilization.
And by the
very act of his own non-entrance to the land he so desired, Moses demonstrated
that the nation is supreme over all; no individual, no matter how great, can
supersede the holy entity that is Israel.
BUT AS beloved as his people
were to him, Moses had a grand vision far beyond partisan popularity. He
believed that while we were certainly unique, we were also part of a larger
universe, and ultimately we had to interface with the world at large. He
understood that God was the God of all creatures and all peoples, and that it
was not enough for us to respect ourselves; others had to respect us as
As Israel prepared to leave Egypt, the Torah states, “God caused
the Jewish People to be viewed favorably by the Egyptians; Moses, too, was
admired as a great man by the masses and by Pharaoh’s servants.”
would have expected a far different reaction. After years of anti- Jewish
incitement, after 10 plagues that devastated the Egyptian landscape, its economy
and its daily routine, we’d have thought the Jews would be utterly detested,
ridden out of Egypt on a rail.
Instead, we left with heads held high,
showered, even, with lavish gifts by the Egyptian populace.
How did this
come about? I suggest that the two concepts are interwoven: When you respect
yourself, others will respect you, too.
When you believe passionately in
your cause, when you act in a Godly fashion, the nations will sense your
sincerity and give you your due.
It is only when we waver in our
commitment, abdicate our principles and compromise our character that we incur
the disdain and disrespect of those around us. You walk tall, and others look up
to you; you walk small, and you end up being stepped on. Moses was a master at
integrating the micro and the macro, the Man with Humanity.
response to the question “Who are you voting for?” good taste prevents me from
actually naming names. But I can tell you with certainty that it will be the
candidate and party that unabashedly stands up for the eternity and immortality
of the Jewish People; that recognizes the special bond among the people, the Law
and the Land, and that sees Israel as a part of – and not apart from – the
international community of nations.
Who knows from where this next Moses
will arise? After all, the original Moses was – you’ll pardon the expression – a
“basket case,” yet he emerged from the river to forge us into a holy nation and
bring us unsurpassed glory.
If unique times call for unique leaders, we
are certainly due to get one now.
The writer is director of the Jewish
Outreach Center of