Friday, January 17, 2020

Anatomy of a Jewish Leader

This week’s Torah portion re-introduces us to one of the most seminal characters of Jewish history: Moses. Known as Moshe Rabbeinu, Hebrew for Moses our teacher, Moses was unique among all rabbis, teachers, prophets and human beings. As the individual chosen by God to serve as His emissary to deliver the Children of Israel from slavery in Egypt and to be the great giver and teacher of the Torah to the Jewish people, Moses experienced God in ways that no other human being ever did. The Torah relates, that Moses spoke to God, “Face-to-Face” (see Exodus 33:11 and Deuteronomy 34:10) and Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Laws of the Fundamentals of the Torah 7:6) asserts that the prophecy of Moses differed from that of all other prophets. Moses’ relationship with God was far more intimate than any other prophets.

Why did God choose Moses?

20th century Biblical scholar, Nehama Leibowitz, looks at the scant stories about Moses’ early life to answer this question. There are three episodes the Torah shares. First, Moses sees an Egyptian harshly beating a Jew. Moses saves the Hebrew slave by striking and killing the tormentor (Exodus 2:11-12). In the very next verses (Exodus 2:13-14), Moses sees two fellow Jews fighting with one another and asks the provocateur why he was striking his “brother.” Essentially, the men tell Moses, to mind his own business and ask if he plans to smite them as he killed the Egyptian? Realizing the Egyptian authorities would execute him for killing a taskmaster, Moses relocates to the desert oasis of Midian. When he arrives, the local priest’s seven daughters were preparing water to quench the thirst of their flocks (Exodus 2:16-17.) When the local shepherds chased the young women away, Moses arose to save them and provided water to the sheep.” Why are these three stories shared?

Professor Leibowitz explained that the Torah included these three episodes because they demonstrate that Moses showed interest and initiative in three different types of conflicts. The first conflict was between a Jew and a non-Jew, the second featured a quarrel between two Jews and the third involved a dispute between two non-Jews. Moses addressed each case. He felt compelled to take an active role and stand for justice and aid a victim, whether personally connected to him or not. Moses’ reflex was to help the victim, whether an internal matter between two co-religionists, or a matter outside of his purview such as a skirmish between two strangers. The Torah thus identifies “the ultimate leader” as one who cares about others for no reason other than empathy, justice and love.

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