Becoming A Leader

Before God calls on Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery, Moses develops his leadership skills and his ability to see beyond narrow struggles and his role as liberator.

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On one level, he succeeds; he kills the Egyptian, thereby stopping him from hitting the Jew. On a number of other levels, however, he fails. He is clearly afraid of the consequences of this act, and with good reason, as Pharaoh, once he hears about it, forces him to flee for his life. The act is also, we see in the next story, unappreciated by the people he is meant to be helping, and, actually, makes no real difference to their lives, as they remain slaves.

Moses as a Teacher

The second story casts Moses as a teacher, a moral guide to the Israelites. The depiction of the two men fighting, and the churlish way in which they respond to his attempt to mediate between them, would seem to indicate a degraded state, one in which the Israelites have been so badly affected by the experience of slavery that whatever unity and self-respect they once possessed is gone. They also see Moses's smiting the Egyptian as a murder, rather than an act of rebellion or retribution.

Here, again, although he shows a spirit and a vision that is noble and grand, Moses fails. His attempt to act as a leader of the Jewish people and to manage their internal affairs is met with distrust and derision, foreshadowing, perhaps, the difficulties he will have with the Jewish people during the Exodus and the forty years in the desert.

Once he flees Egypt, Moses has what would seem to be his first fully successful experience as a leader and protector, when he successfully saves the daughters of the Priest of Midian from the local bullies. Interestingly, here he is less violent than he was in Egypt--the Bible simply uses the verb "saved" to describe what he did--"and Moses arose and saved them."

This stands in contradistinction to his focus in Egypt, which seemed to be on getting the Egyptian, rather than helping the Jew, and, in the second story, with the two fighting Jews, on chastising the evil-doer, rather than helping his victim. It is also worth noting that in Midian, Moses was saving strangers, non-Jews, whereas in Egypt the text emphasizes that he was dealing with and was moved by the plight of his "brethren."

The final vignette, in which Moses sees the burning bush, can be seen in a simple way; he sees the bush burning in a strange way and goes to check it out, and then God speaks to him. It makes more sense, however, to see this not as a pyrotechnics display put on by God to impress Moses and get his attention, but, rather, as a final, ultimate step taken by Moses, which constitutes the final stage in his evolution and growth as a person and a leader.

A careful look at the text bears this out: "Now Moses herded the flock of Yitro, his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. And he led the flock far away, into the wilderness, and came to the mountain of God, to Horev. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire within a bush, and he saw, and behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. And Moses said: ‘I will turn aside, and see this great sight, why does the bush not burn up.’ And God saw that he turned aside to see, and the Lord called to him from within the bush..."

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Rabbi Shimon Felix

Rabbi Shimon Felix is the Israel Director of the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel. He lives with his family in Jerusalem, and has taught in a wide variety of educational frameworks in Israel and abroad.