Parshat Shmot: Qualities of a leader

Moshe Rabbeinu, the leader of the Jewish nation from the time of its slavery in Egypt to its entrance into the Land of Israel, is revealed to us in Parshat Shmot in a complex process of formation.

January 3, 2013 22:32
3 minute read.
Torah reading

Torah reading 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem /The Jerusalem Post)


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Moshe Rabbeinu, the leader of the Jewish nation from the time of its slavery in Egypt to its entrance into the Land of Israel, is revealed to us in Parshat Shmot in a complex process of formation. This parsha describes Moshe’s development from the time of his birth until he stood before Pharaoh in an unprecedented and brave demand to release the enslaved Jewish people.

Let us briefly look at Moshe’s outstanding qualities and understand who should be chosen as a leader and what the necessary qualities are which are needed for courageous and strong leadership.

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As a young man, Moshe grew up far from his nation. He was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter in the house of Pharaoh, in the Egyptian royal palace.

One fine day, Moshe leaves his ivory tower and encounters a cruel reality: “...when Moshe was grown up, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens; and he saw an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew, one of his brethren. And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he smote the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand” (Exodus 2:11-12).

Perhaps for the first time, Moshe sees the situation of his humiliated brothers. A typical Egyptian man does not hesitate hitting and being cruel to a Hebrew man. Moshe sees this and is horrified. He does not remain silent; does not consider his respected status as the adopted child of the king, and he takes action.

He beats the Egyptian to death. The sense of brotherhood, the feelings of righteousness and honesty beat in his chest and he chooses to defend the beaten Jew.

The next day, Moshe leaves the palace again and discovers a phenomenon which is no less serious: “And he went out the second day, and, behold, two men of the Hebrews were striving together; and he said to him that did the wrong: ‘Wherefore smitest thou thy fellow?’” (Exodus 2:13).

Moshe discovers that the violence has spread and infiltrated the Jewish nation itself, and again he does not remain silent. He cares. He gets involved and asks the evil one the penetrating question: Why do you hit your fellow Hebrew? After Moshe is forced to escape from Egypt following Pharaoh’s fury, he reaches a foreign land, Midyan. He discovers that the shepherds there are abusing innocent maidens and banishing them from the well they have come to in order to water their father’s flock. Again, Moshe gets involved and stands up for what is right: “Moshe stood up and helped them, and watered their flock” (Exodus 2:17).

Moshe is revealed as a conscientious person who is not prepared to accept injustice. Wherever he is, he announces his belief in the values of morality and fairness, and even resolves to takes action to introduce these values to his surroundings.

As the story continues, Moshe marries the woman he had saved from the harsh hands of the Midyanite shepherds and he fills her place in the role of shepherding his father-in-law’s flock. At this point, he is told by God to return to Egypt and stand before Pharaoh to demand the release and liberation of the Jewish nation.

His instinctive response is: “Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?’ (Exodus 3:11).

Moshe is not happy about the important status being offered to him on a silver platter. He is convinced that he is not suited to lead the nation and liberate it. Again and again he tries to pass the crown of leadership to someone else. Five times he tries to maintain his anonymity so he will not have to take the scepter of leadership into his own hands.

After we briefly looked at the creation of a leader, we can identify the necessary qualities for leadership: concerned involvement, a developed conscience, willingness to act and tremendous humility.

Few of us seek to lead the Jewish nation, but the truth is that each and every one of us is a leader. It could be a leader of a group at work, a leader of a family, or even leading ourselves.

In order to be a good leader, we must internalize and remember these noble qualities found in this first leader. We must be concerned, conscientious, prepared to act in the right place and time, and with that, remember that we have no reason for arrogance or desire to rule another.

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz is the rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.

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