Elections: 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 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)
Ballots are printed ahead of elections 370
(photo credit: 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.
The 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 complete bust.
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 part....”
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.
Among his too-many-to-list accomplishments, two aspects of Moses’s legacy stand out in my mind.
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 well.
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.”
Now, we 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.
So in 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 Ra’anana. www.rabbistewartweiss.com.