Here’s a bit of Jewish wisdom (Masechet Iruvin, 13b): “All who woos greatness, greatness escapes him. And all who escapes greatness, greatness woos him.” Such was Moses, the ideal role model for a leader. In these days of Passover, remembering Moses’ unique leadership might be a good lesson for us all, everyone from you and me, and all the way up to heads of states.
Moses was not an ordinary person. He was a prince. And not an ordinary prince, but the king’s favorite, the one destined to inherit the king, as the Midrash describes it,
“You are saying, ‘And the child grew.’ However, he did not grow as everyone does. …Pharaoh’s daughter would kiss him, cuddle him, and love him as though he was her son. She would not take him out from the king’s palace. And because he was beautiful, everyone longed to see him. One who saw him would not be able to ignore him, and Pharaoh would kiss him and cuddle him. He would take his crown, and Pharaoh would place it on his head, as he was destined to do when he grew up.”
At the same time, Moses was the antithesis of a would-be ruler. He was anything but eloquence, he was an outcast among both Hebrews and Egyptians, and he often failed to understand God, whose message he was carrying. Anyone else would have given up long ago. But not him; he had the quality that we would love to see in today’s leaders: true, unselfish love for his people.
His love enabled him to lead because it connected the people to him and to one another. Moreover, his love eventually implanted a new attribute in them—love of others. When they united at the foot of Mount Sinai, “as one man with one heart,” they became a nation. As long as they continued to adhere to the law of love, always aspiring to follow the motto, “love your neighbor as yourself,” they were able to sustain themselves as a nation.
Like Mordechai in the book of Esther, Moses first unites the people, and thereafter they are rewarded with a miracle and eventual redemption. In the case of Moses it was exodus from Egypt and ultimate arrival at the land of Israel. In the case of Mordechai, it was the eventual return to the land of Israel after the “redemption” from Haman and the return from Persia.
It is no coincidence that unity precedes redemption. Despite numerous attempts to change it, and despite occasional acts of kindness, at its core, human nature is self-centered. It is something that is very evident these days as we look around us and examine our society, and it is something that was known thousands of years ago, hence the verse, “the inclination in a man’s heart is evil from his youth.”
And yet, a society cannot survive only on egoism. It requires balance between giving and receiving. Moses taught the people not to fight their egos, but to rise above it and cover it with love, as in, “Love covers all transgressions.” Just as today we are losing the battle against our egos, therefore becoming increasingly self-centered, the ancient Hebrews could not cope with it. Instead, Moses taught them how to rise above it and establish a covenant of mutual love that facilitated a just and social model based on mutual responsibility.
Indeed, a leader is first and foremost an educator. Moses educated his people toward loving one another and helped them connect above their egos. The Hebrews united around Mount Sinai, which gets its name from the Hebrew word, sinaah (hate). They did not destroy the mountain of hate between them, but sent the most pristine element in their midst, Moses, to climb the mountain, conquer it, and bring down a law (Torah) by which they would be able to establish love among them.
The Torah tells us that the process of establishing a state of “love your neighbor as yourself” was neither smooth nor easy. But ever since it was given on Mount Sinai, it has not changed. When the people of Israel established mutual responsibility, becoming “as one man with one heart,” they were given the tenet, “love your neighbor as yourself,” the great rule of the Torah. At that time the Creator said about them, “This day you have become a people.”
And while the nation was being transformed, Moses was leading the way, always showing more dedication and devotion to his people than anyone else could muster. Thus, the perfect role model was also the perfect leader. Precisely because he had no desire to rule, no money, power, pedigree (being the outcast prince of the enemy), or even eloquence, but only one redeeming quality—love—he was the ideal leader.
Indeed, only a leader who nurtures brotherly love instead of lust for power and self-esteem can succeed in Israel. Israel’s success lies in its unity, and only such a leader can unite the people. If today’s leaders want to pull the wagon of the Jewish people out of the quagmire of anti-Semitism, they must first and foremost focus on uniting Israel. This will be the beginning of our true redemption—from our own egos.
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