Charlton Heston as Moses in 'The Ten Commandments'.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Of all the stories Jewish children learn, the exodus from Egypt is the best known. From “Let My People Go” to “Prince of Egypt” to “The Ten Commandments,” the story of the Jewish People’s liberation from slavery has captured the hearts and imaginations of Jews and non-Jews alike, and still manages to unite Jews around Seder tables all over the world almost 3,500 years later.
There are many themes you can connect to during the Seder, such as the narrative of the degradation, survival and ultimate redemption of a people whose potential was rescued from the mud pits of Egypt.
There is another important theme: leadership. Moses is the central character in the Passover story, and a Jewish hero. Moreover, he may be considered the single most tried and tested, obstacle-laden, caught-between-an army-and-an-ocean, dragging-an-entire-complaining-nation-through-a-hot-desert leader the world has ever known—and the person whose failure would have cost the most, for himself, his nation and the entire world.
There is much to learn about leadership from him.
1. Be yourself. No, really.
Moses was raised as a prince, with all the perks in the greatest civilization in the world at the time, operating at its peak. But when he went out into the fields, the Torah says he went out to his “brethren”; when he saw the nightmare of Jewish slavery in action, he struck down an Egyptian taskmaster beating a Jewish slave. He knew the consequences but he did it anyway. He was committed to his people. Moses lost all of his privileges by identifying as a Jew and prioritizing that over his identity as an Egyptian prince. But that only set him up to be hailed as liberator of the Jewish People. When you own your identity, including your Jewishness, you will be in the position to actualize your ultimate potential.
2. Empathize with suffering.
Moses’ entire life changed because of his decision to protect a Jewish slave. The fact that a person was suffering was enough to galvanize him to action.
The Midrash says that as a shepherd, Moses showed sincere concern for his sheep, a trait which proved he was capable of the compassion and empathy necessary to herd a group of dehumanized ex-slaves through a rugged wilderness and into a new era of strength and spirituality. When you have the heart to feel the pain of another, you will also have the eyes to see who they really are and help them become all they can be.
3. Do the right thing.
Moses had the guts to leave his status as a prince on the strength of his principles.
Not only was Pharaoh unimpressed, but he increased the Jews’ workload. Moses was distressed by the continued refusal of Pharaoh to release the slaves, but God comforted him with assurances that this was the path that would lead to redemption. When the going gets tough, sometimes we want to quit. A leader has the courage to see reality not for what it is, but for what it could be.
4. Accept the call to lead.
When Moses was chosen to lead the Jewish nation out of Egypt, he had no ambitions of personal greatness and glory. In fact, he tried to talk God out of it. Flash forward to Moses in Egypt – though diplomatic relations between him and Pharaoh stagnate and fester, Moses is a man on a mission—single-minded in his purpose to free his people. Later on, when God’s miracles lead to their release, and the Jewish People’s response was crying and complaining in the desert, Moses is given a way out: If you want, says God, we can ditch this whole mess. You will be released from your obligation, and I will start a new nation of non-whiners, which will come forth from you. Your descendants will be my new “chosen people.” Moses refused.
He went from a reluctant leader to a selfless and relentless one, leading because he had to. Because he was asked to step up. He had no ambitions for himself, for self-aggrandizement, or even self-expression. He had unending devotion to God’s instructions and to the Jewish People. A true leader does not use his position to gain honor. Rather, he believes it is an honor to give himself to a worthy purpose.
5. Believe in miracles.
Moses’s mission was not realistic. What were the odds that this shattered tangle of humanity would be released from the world’s most powerful nation-state and then falter through the desert, only to become a great nation in its own land? Not only did it take a powerful team of allies (Aharon, Miriam, Joshua) to get the people to this pinnacle, but it took assistance not-of-this world. Real leaders know that there is a Divine hand in charge of results.
In every generation, enemies rise up to destroy us, but we are saved.
This year is certainly no exception. With any number of Islamic extremist groups arrayed against us, it is exciting to know there are still young leaders out there, waiting to be called to duty. It is everyone’s job to look around, to find the “Moses” among us, and to encourage them to step up for Israel and the Jewish People. And it is also our job to ask, “Where is the Moses inside of me?” We are all responsible to take initiative—and then we will receive the assistance we need. I know we can look forward to future Passover stories just waiting to be told.The author is Jerusalem U’s CEO and founder. He is the producer of Crossing the Line; Israel Inside: How a Small Nation Makes a Big Difference; Beneath the Helmet and several other films.