What would Moses do?

He'd provide humble, honest leadership but would never 'democratize' what was Divinely ordained.

April 1, 2007 22:30
4 minute read.
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Take our government... please! Our political situation would almost be funny, if it wasn't so serious. We shake our heads and ask rhetorically, "Where are our leaders?" knowing the answer is probably "under indictment." From the prime minister to the finance minister to the defense minister to the chief rabbis to the Katsav brothers, we are knee-deep in scandal. Every day brings new revelations that create "headline shock" - a fear of opening your newspaper. So it seems to me that, on the eve of Pessah, we might take a moment to consider the greatest leader Israel has ever known - the hero of the Haggada, Moses. His task was no less daunting 3,300 years ago than ours is today as he led a disparate conglomeration of clans from the pit of slavery to the pinnacle of achievement. He too had to deal with domestic problems, internal dissension and hostile neighbors, but he emerged as a role model for the ages. What could he teach us today about leadership? Moses had numerous qualities that shaped his illustrious career, including wisdom, tenacity, physical strength, compassion, intellectual curiosity and courage. But I think the first thing he would preach to us is humility. Self-effacing and reserved, Moses is praised by God as "the humblest of all men." He initially shuns the cloak of leadership, and then, when leadership is literally forced upon him, puts his own personal interests and those of his family aside for the good of the nation. From the moment he leaves Pharaoh's royal palace and casts his lot in with his Hebrew brothers, he dedicates himself with total energy to the Israelites' welfare and liberation. He genuinely considers himself no better than anyone else, a lowly shepherd now entrusted with tending a precious human flock. Uninterested in photo ops or sound bites - he insists that brother Aaron occupy the public spotlight - there isn't an arrogant bone in his body. He is accessible, approachable and willing to accept blame. He believes the people come first, asking God to "blot his name out of His book" if the nation is punished too severely. HE RECOGNIZES that a leader's first priority is not to make a name for himself, but rather to make his people great. Moses's lack of conceit is strikingly evidenced both by the fact that his name is mentioned just once in the Haggada, and by his magnanimous acceptance of God's dictate that he may not enter Israel. And to underline Moses's steadfast disinterest in pursuing fame or fortune, his burial place remains unknown to this day, and no shrine to him exists. Moses would probably just shrug his shoulders at all this and say, "That's OK - it's about them, not me!" Moses would instruct our current leaders to live "close to the earth" and focus less on the trappings of power and more on the sources of power itself: a moral compass, a sense of destiny, a coherent national agenda. He would advise a garment more like his own - without pockets to line. Along with humility, Moses had an elevated sense of pride. "Pride goes before a fall," teaches the Book of Proverbs (and later Shakespeare), but pride can also be an extremely praiseworthy trait. To be proud of one's religion, culture and God is a sure sign of confidence in one's mission and the justice of one's cause. Throughout his life, Moses had ample opportunities to blend in with the alien cultures surrounding him. His adopted father was King of Egypt, and his father-in-law was priest of Midian. Even within the ranks of the Israelites there were those who resented Moses's unswerving allegiance to the dream of a united Jewish people living in its own land and proudly following its own unique creed and culture. MOSES UNABASHEDLY stands up to anyone who would compromise the integrity of the religious code or the absolute sovereignty of Jewish nationhood. He swears fealty to the One God, despite Pharaoh's mocking comment that he "cannot find Him" in Egypt's "book of gods." Moses breaks the Tablets of the Ten Commandments in outrage over the sin of the Golden Calf, but then re-acquires the Law, with not a single letter changed. He suffers a rebellion led by his own cousin, Korach, but will not "democratize" the system of governance as Divinely ordained. He is fiercely protective of his people - serving with distinction as their "defense attorney" - but equally so of the eternity of Judaism. He goes to war with the likes of Amalek and Moab rather than water down the pure faith. And he is determined to bring the Jewish People back to Israel, our rightful home. He will not deviate from that course, even when some vocal rabble-rousers sing the praises of the Exile and clamor to return to Egypt. Moses would cringe at any leader of Israel who exhibited reluctance, or worse, shame, regarding our particularistic, Jewish way of life. He would scrupulously infuse every aspect of our national life with integrity, and then proudly hold it up to the nations of the world as a paradigm of good government. He would not apologize, in any way, shape or form for how or where we live. And with the great moral clarity he embodied he would leave no doubt in anyone's mind as to who is the criminal and who his victim. "In every generation," says the Haggada , "there are those who rise up against us to destroy us." As we toast our liberation at the Seder, let us pray that God sends us another Moses to be sure this threat is never carried out. The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra'anana. [email protected]

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