The Leadership of Moshe Rabbenu

Rabbi Reuven Mann

In this week's parsha, Beshalach, we read about one of the greatest miracles in Jewish history, the splitting of the Red Sea which gave the Jews' safe passage on dry land and caused the destruction of the Egyptian expeditionary force.  The Jews were seized by panic when they saw the Egyptian army chasing after them and they turned against Moshe.  Their fear was so great that they chastised him for taking them out of Egypt and even claimed that it would have been better for them "to be slaves in Egypt than to die in the wilderness."  We can learn a great deal from the reaction of Moshe Rabbenu to this shameful provocation.  He did not get angry but retained his calmness and composure.  With the Jews on the verge of a complete meltdown Moshe encouraged them to stand firm and witness the salvation that Hashem would effectuate for them.  He concluded his brief oration with a simple but effective admonition; "Hashem will battle for you and you, be silent."

Moshe's behavior in this crisis reflects the qualities of a great leader.  In general even superior leaders who are idealistic suffer from a certain vulnerability; the fear of rejection.  There is hardly a person who is not affected by harsh criticism.  Thus, the science of gauging public opinion has become indispensable to contemporary politicians.  Political campaigns are planned with great care and positions taken by candidates are thoroughly tested for public reaction before they are adopted.  Even courageous and independent minded leaders can lose their "cool" when they feel they have brought great harm upon their people.  Golda Meir, the late Prime Minister of Israel, felt terrible about her responsibility for the catastrophic consequences of allowing Egypt to get in the first blow in the Yom Kippur War.  Her grief was so great that she even considered suicide, but, to her great credit, contemplated the impact it would have in the solder's morale and decided against it.  Menachem Begin spent the last years of his life, in a state of withdrawal and depression.  There were many causes but clearly the unpopularity of the War in Lebanon and the universal condemnation for the Sabra and Shaltila massacre (which was carried out by Arabs against Arabs and was blamed on Israel) played a significant role.

In many ways Moshe Rabbenu was the greatest leader in history.  No one ever accomplished more for their people than the one who led the Jews out of Egypt, brought them the Torah and made them into a nation etc.  Yet he was viciously provoked and personally attacked to the point where he said "just a bit more and they will kill me."  Moshe recognized the dangers and pitfalls of leadership and pleaded with Hashem to be spared that responsibility.  His greatest qualification was his lack of desire for the egoistic gratification which attract ordinary people to positions of power.  The very desire for power is rooted in the need of the human ego to be nurtured by the approval of others.  As parents, teachers, spiritual guides, etc. we all are leaders in some sense of the term.  Moshe Rabbenu was successful because he was not in search of the approval of people.  He was absolutely committed to doing what was best for them, as dictated by Hashem.  His faith in Hashem was absolute and this alone gave him the strength to be undeterred by the disapproval of people.  May we seek to emulate the example of Moshe.  May the Jewish people merit to have spiritual and political leaders who eschew public acclaim and bravely battle for the interests of Klal Yisrael irrespective of popularity.

Shabbat Shalom