It All Depends on Me

Rabbi Reuven Mann

Throughout history the Jews have been blessed with great leaders, both political and spiritual. It is true that not all Jewish rulers have been righteous. A study of the Book of Kings reveals that harm befell the Jews because of the evil designs of corrupt and power hungry Kings.

However that should not cause us to overlook the positive achievements of truly great individuals such as King David and his son Solomon who built the first Beit Hamikdosh.

One can make a very strong case that the greatest leader of all time was Moshe Rabbenu. His political and religious achievements remain unsurpassed.

Interestingly, he lacked the superficial aspects of charisma such as communication skill which most politicians strive for. And he had no desire to be the one in charge. However, Hashem saw something in him that rendered him most qualified to represent Him to the Jews and to Pharaoh. What can we learn from the Moshe’s leadership style that might be relevant to our own lives?

Moshe was the type of person that intervened to come to the rescue of the oppressed. Thus, he stepped in to save his fellow Jew from the Egyptian officer who was beating him. This put his own life in jeopardy and he had to escape from the clutches of Pharaoh. But it did not diminish  his ardor for righting wrongs. When the daughters of Yitro were mistreated by the shepherds because their father had renounced idolatry, Moshe “stood up and saved them.”

These two incidents were but a prelude to his greatest rescue mission. This occurred on Mt. Sinai where he had ascended to receive the Tablets from Hashem. While there, Hashem informed Moshe about the sin of the Golden Calf and what He intended to do about it. Hashem said to Moshe, “I have seen this people, and behold! It is a stiff-necked people. And now, desist from Me. Let My anger flare up against them and I shall annihilate them; and I shall make you a great nation.”

Moshe then boldly rose to become the defender of the Jewish people. He argued that destroying them would create an irreparable Chillul Hashem (desecration of G-d’s Name) as the onlooking nations would not attribute it to the Jew’s sinfulness but to some deficiency in Hashem. Moreover, he argued, if the nation that was built on the foundation of the 3 Patriarchs could not withstand such trials, how could one that was based solely on Moshe even have any chance.

Moshe’s plea won the day and “Hashem reconsidered regarding the evil that He declared He would do to His People.” In effect the  intervention of Moshe was responsible for the survival of the Jews from the brink of destruction. But what gave Moshe the right and courage to take upon himself the responsibility for the very existence of the Jewish People?

According to Rashi Hashem hinted to Moshe that the matter was dependent on him. For He said, “And now desist from Me…” to which Rashi comments, “…here He opened a door for him and informed him that the matter depended on him”

Moshe rose to the challenge and took upon his shoulders this momentous obligation. For he knew full well that there was no guarantee he would succeed and the dangers of failure were unthinkable. But the great leader who is totally dedicated to his people is willing to assume total responsibility and risk everything, when necessary, on their behalf. He doesn’t seek to protect himself and distribute the blame among others. He doesn’t “play it safe” in order to avoid criticism. He takes bold action according to his wisdom and has the courage to accept the consequences whatever they may be.

We may ourselves not be leaders but this lesson has great relevance to all of us especially at this time of year. For on Rosh Hashana every one of Hashem’s creatures stands before Him in judgement. And when questioned or challenged we tend to find excuses and blame our own failings on others, whether it be a matter of unfortuitous circumstances or of people not doing for us what we expected of them.

But this would not be keeping in line with the example of Moshe. Hashem communicated to him that, “this matter depends entirely on you.” You cannot put it on anyone else but you must assume the responsibility on your own shoulders and find within yourself the capacity to persevere.

And so it is for the rest of us. When it comes to the most vital issues of judgement and whether or not we have fulfilled our responsibilities before Hashem, we must not seek to escape but rather assume the attitude that the matter depends entirely on ourselves. We can’t say that the “situation” is to blame or that things didn’t come together properly, or the time just wasn’t right. For this matter depends exclusively  on ourselves. 

In Parshat Nitzavim Hashem states that we can fulfill the commandments. “For this commandment that I command you today— it is not hidden from you and it is not distant. It is not in heaven…..nor is it across the sea…..Rather the matter is very near to you,—in your mouth and your heart—to perform it.”

Our  ancestors who witnessed the Revelation on Mt Sinai understood the nature of the commitment that was required. As we stand before Hashem at this time  of awe let us reaffirm their unequivocal declaration; “We will do and we will listen.”