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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It seems clear that there is a moment when Moses is called upon to either 'see' this sight and decide to go investigate it, and in doing so meet God, or fail to do so, and continue his walk in the wilderness as a shepherd. It is only when God "saw that he turned aside to see" that he calls upon Moses. To me, this feels like a test, a last check by God to see if He really does want to call upon Moses to go back to Egypt and demand of Pharaoh that he let the Israelites go. If so, what kind of test is it? How does one pass, and how does one fail?

The Lessons of Distance

If we look at the stories together, it seems to me that the lesson Moses needed to learn was the lesson of distance, of disinterestedness. Moses began his career as a hot-head--his first act was to kill the Egyptian. As we have shown, this act, although perhaps morally defensible (the Rabbis talk about this question), served no real purpose; it is almost totally symbolic, as it did not bring the end of the Israelite's suffering any closer.

In his next act, Moses looks closer to home, towards the Jewish people themselves. But, here, again, he is unsuccessful. Angrily, he calls the aggressor "rasha"--"wicked one," and, if one wants to give credence to the words of the perpetrator, and believe him when he accuses Moses of wanting to kill him, Moses said this with murder in his eyes. If he succeeding in establishing who was evil, he failed to do anything about it.

It is only in Midian, where the victims are strangers, and where, perhaps as a result of their being strangers, Moses's actions are devoid of anger, violence, and excess emotion, but are focused on simply saving the victims, that Moses finally succeeds.

Successful Model

Perhaps Moses is constructing a new, more successful model for his leadership--the point is not the emotional baggage, the symbolic gesture, or a battle to the death with 'evil'--the point is to actually do some good, to succeed in improving things, to 'save' the situation, rather than do battle with it.

And then comes the final lesson, the lesson of the burning bush. Here, Moses is challenged to be interested in something that doesn't matter. Something that has no right or wrong, no apparent moral weight, no good guys and bad guys. Something that is simply interesting, worth looking into, worth investigating.

The test of the bush was this: is Moses able to 'see' (and for those of you out there who would like to look at the text, the verb 'lir'ot'--'to see', appears again and again in the first and the last of the four stories) something that is not on his agenda, not part of his struggle, his anger, his fight? Is he able to see disinterestedly, out of simple curiosity about what might be happening?

Can Moses, who seems, in the first three stories, to be totally wrapped up in the struggle for justice, show interest in other, perhaps more spiritual things? Can he see beyond the noble but narrow role that had constructed for himself as savior of the oppressed and chastiser of the oppressors?

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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.