Moses’ Special Nature

What’s so great about Moses? Last week God told him, “I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac and unto Jacob as El Shaddai but I did not make myself known to them by my name Adonai.”[1] That is factually inaccurate.[2] My belief is that God said this to Moses in order to build up his confidence during a difficult moment. If you recall from Parshat Shemot, Moses’ first visit to Pharaoh didn’t go so well. Pharoah not only didn’t let Israel go, he also made them gather their own straw![3] When the Israelites accost Moses, he exclaims to God “Why have you done evil to this people? Did you send me for this?!” למה הרעותה לעם הזה למה זה שלחתני[4]

         At this point God indicates to Moses how special he is, that he received a gift that even Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did not: God’s special name becoming revealed to him. He will serve as judge[5] to Pharaoh, subjecting him to ten plagues including the worst of all-the death of his firstborn child.[6]

         From Shemot to Bo, we see a great evolution in Moses, indicating why he is truly a special leader. At the beginning of the Torah portion, Pharaoh, says to go and then asks Moses “who should go?”[7] He will only let the men go, but that’s a no-go for Moses. The man who once was so timid, refusing to serve God four times in Parshat Shemot and once in Parshat VaEra, here makes the ultimate statement of a leader. וַיֹּ֣אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֔ה בִּנְעָרֵ֥ינוּ וּבִזְקֵנֵ֖ינוּ נֵלֵ֑ךְ בְּבָנֵ֨ינוּ וּבִבְנוֹתֵ֜נוּ בְּצֹאנֵ֤נוּ וּבִבְקָרֵ֙נוּ֙ נֵלֵ֔ךְ כִּ֥י חַג־יְהֹוָ֖ה לָֽנוּ׃ Moses said “We will go with our young and our old, our sons and our daughters, our flocks and our herds-for it is a holiday of God for all of us.[8] Moses refused to leave anyone behind. He would not accept a partial exodus-rather the entire Israelite community needed to be free. The very people Pharaoh was afraid of[9] becomes a people in the fullest sense with these words of Moses.

         We learn three crucial lessons from Moses that should be applied to leaders today. First, it’s ok to be afraid of stepping up, as long as one eventually does the right thing and leads when s/he needs to. Moses’ fear dissipates when push comes to shove. He does not take a plea bargain or a settlement but, recognizing he has the upper hand and that the most vulnerable of Israel need to be protective, takes an all-or-nothing stance. Second, at times a leader will fail and the point is to learn from one’s failures. Moses’ first attempt to lead ended in disaster-the Israelites had to procure their own straw, working even harder than before. It took learning from his mistake and going back before Pharoah again and again for Moses to develop the confidence he exudes in Parshat Bo. Third and most important, all leaders need cheerleaders to encourage us to stay the course, especially when the going gets rough. Two weeks ago Moses was discouraged, doubting himself and his abilities, believing that his mission would never succeed. With God as his cheerleader, bolstering his confidence by telling him how special his role truly is, Moses developed the courage to go return to Pharaoh. He also had the aid of his brother Aaron, and the two of them together succeeded where one alone might have failed.

         In our new secular year 2022, it is my hope that each of us will look at situations in which we are a leader and evaluate how we might be more effective. Perhaps we need to find supporting hands to help us when we are afraid to try again. Maybe we need to learn a lesson from a past struggle. Whatever the case may be, let us recognize that we are not alone and that together, with the right partners, we can work together to make a positive difference in our communities. Ken Yhi Ratzon, may it be our will to do so.

[1] Exodus 6:3

[2] See Genesis 16:7 and 24:3

[3] Exodus 5:6

[4] Exodus 5:22

[5] Exodus 7:1. Interestingly the word for judge, אלהים, is the same as the word for God, perhaps indicating that Moses, the foundling adopted by Pharaoh, will in fact hold up a mirror to him as God’s designee, showing who the true God is.

[6] Exodus 11:29

[7] Exodus 10:8

[8] Exodus 10:9

[9] Pharaoh is the first person to define Israel as עם, a people or a nation, in Exodus 1:9

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