Parshat Shemot

Moshe Rabaynu – The Making of a Great Leader”
By Rabbi Liat Yardeni-Funk, ’06, Dean of the Rabbinical School at AJRCA

What makes for a great leader? Are we born with strong charisma and the ability to lead, or, if leadership skills are properly nourished and nurtured, can anyone become a great leader?
Moshe, as a leader has gone through a major transformation.  He is raised as privileged royalty in the palace of Pharaoh.  He lacks nothing in the material world and we are not aware of any Midot (good behavior) that he learned in the palace.  Moshe walks out of the palace doors, exemplifies great leadership, and the ability to stand up to power as he saves his fellow Jew from the harsh hands of an Egyptian task master, without fearing the law or any consequences.  He is compassionate and he takes risks.  Moshe shows his leadership characteristics with his ability to identify with those less fortunate than himself, as well as another leadership characteristic of humility. He also is the judge of a just verdict between two Hebrews who are fighting, even though he was never even asked to do so.  He is consistant in his judgment and he does not discriminate. Moshe shows an additional example of a great characteristic of a leader by acting and doing the right thing without ever really being asked to do so.  Moshe continues with his leadership qualities when he shows great empathy as he rescues the young ladies from their task masters.
At the burning bush, God tells Moshe that during his mission of freeing the Israelites from slavery, he will not be alone, but rather he will be with the elders of the community.

  .(וְשָׁמְעוּ לְקֹלֶךָ וּבָאתָ אַתָּה וְזִקְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל-מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם וַאֲמַרְתֶּם אֵלָיו ” (ג:יח”

However, in reality, when Moses actually is doing the task of addressing Pharaoh the Torah tells us that it was only Moses and Aaron that came before Pharaoh as it says:
.(וְאַחַר בָּאוּ מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֶל-פַּרְעֹה ” (ה:א”
So where were the elders that were supposed to support the worried Moses?  Why was it only Moshe & Aaron addressing the Pharaoh?  Were the elderly or Zekenim worried for themselves, since they too are still slaves? Were they afraid and worried about standing before Pharaoh and they backed out of their leadership mission?  Did they fail as leaders to complete their assigned mission? Is the fact that the Elders didn’t fulfill their obligations as leaders to support Moses have anything to do with the fact that the Israelites got punished with additional workload?  Is that also the reason that the Torah tells us that the “cops of the Israelis” (ששוטרי בני ישראל הוכו) were beaten, since those are the same elders that failed their leadership role?
Without a doubt, Moshe knows that he is a wanted felon in Egypt for the murder for the Egyptian taskmaster. How would it ever be possible for him to go back to Egypt?  The support of the elders was critical for the worried Moses.  However, that didn’t deter him for going to accomplish his God-given mission.
Our Parsha tells us that God had to reassure the worried Moshe from worrying about returning to accomplish his mission as the rescuer of the Jewish people from slavery when he addresses Pharaoh.  The verse clearly states that the old Pharaoh died.
.( וַיְהִי בַיָּמִים הָרַבִּים הָהֵם וַיָּמָת מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם ” (ג:א”
God further tried to support Moses as a leader before his big task to return to Egypt and address Pharaoh by telling Moses that all the people who wanted to kill him have already passed away themselves,

.(לֵךְ שֻׁב מִצְרָיִם כִּי-מֵתוּ כָּל-הָאֲנָשִׁים הַמֲבַקְשִׁים אֶת-נַפְשֶׁךָ ” (ד: יט”

Once more God reassures the worried Moses during the Burning Bush that his leadership role as a savior and a leader of the Jewish people out of Egypt is secure and that God will be by his side when he address Pharaoh, as it it written: ( כִּי-אֶהְיֶה עִמָּךְ ” (ג:יב” .  Despite his reservations and  concern, Moses does not back out of his God-given assignment.
It is possible that Moshe is worried that he is seeing a desert illusion, a mirage, as a result of the great desert heat? Maybe Moshe is imagining the sights and sounds that he is now hearing, seeing, and experiencing?  Maybe the Burning Bush is the proof that Moshe needed God’s reassurance that he is not dreaming, “here is your sign”: “וזה לך לאות” .
Many times in our lives we are in need of reassurance and support to do the right thing and to achieve our life’s mission and our ultimate goal.  God provides Moshe all the needed support and promises that both God and Aaron will be by his side.
It seems that the two examples for Moses showing his leadership skills and his good judgment are written in as Torah stories that are right before the Burning Bush.   Maybe there is a deep connection to this proximity.  Maybe the two stories of doing the right thing are juxtaposed with the Burning Bush to prove to the reader the importance of doing right and that may result in the appearance of God’s presence in our lives.
We find four different synonyms in the Torah to describe the Israelites plea for help and screams of suffering to God:
 .(וַיֵּא ָנְחוּ “, ” וַיִּזְעָקוּ “, ” שַׁוְ עָתָם ” (ב:כג) ו” נַאֲקָתָם ” (ב:כד”
We also find five different word of how God hears their plea for help:
;(וַתַּעַל… אֶל-הָאֱ‑לֹהִים ” (ב:כג); “ וַיִּשְׁמַע אֱ‑לֹהִים “; “ וַיִּ זְכֹּר אֱ‑לֹהִים ” (ב:כד);

” וַיַּרְא  אֱ‑לֹהִים ”  “ וַיֵּדַע אֱ‑לֹהִים ” (ב:כה).

True leaders hear the struggles of those in pain.  The Torah may be reflecting the fact that God, as our ultimate leader, was hearing in more ways (total of 5 ways) than the pain that is reflected (total of 4 pains), the ways in which God will never forget the Chosen People.
Now, as Moses is transforming himself into the true leader that he was meant to be, Moses is no longer fleeing after an act of violence killing the Egyptian, but rather he is ready to be the hero that he was intended to be who will save his people.  Moshe is wondering why he was selected for this mission, but he accepts it after some concerns. “Who am I that I should go before the Pharaoh?”
.(מִי אָנֹכִי כִּי אֵלֵךְ אֶל פַּרְעֹה”? (ג:יא”

Although Moses’ first mission failed, unlike the Elders who never went out for their mission to support Moses, we find the midwives who too stood up to power and did what was right; they too feared God more than they feared Pharaoh.

Moshe was not perfect. He stuttered when he spoke and he showed some fear and self doubt, however, he is transformed from a reactive, aggressive leader to a thoughtful and kind leader.  He took action when it was needed and is now emerging as the ultimate leader to save the Jewish people.  The responsibility as future clergy is immense.  With the honor and the clergy title comes the great responsibility to stand for what is right, to confront the establishment and people in power if they are wrong, and to support the widow, the orphan, the weak and the underdog.   We must remember that regardless of the innate leadership skills that Moses possessed, he grew as a leader based upon his experiences and his support from God.

What characteristics did we learn from Moshe as a leader in Parshat Shemot?

We learned about his ability to stand up to power, not fearing the law or any consequences when doing the right thing, being compassionate, taking risks, identifying with those less fortunate, humility, compassion, being just, being consistent in any ruling, not discriminating, doing the right thing without being asked to do so, and showing great empathy for the less fortunate.

As future global leaders of the Jewish world and AJRCA graduates, we have an enormous responsibility to be true role models.  Moses is a great example of a role model.  His immense transformation into a charismatic leader and growth from being an angry and reactive person to a thoughtful and supportive leader is heartwarming.

May we all merit the leadership roles in our present and our future positions.


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