By Iris Danziger MD
No one person is mentioned more in the Torah than Moses. In this week’s parashah we read how his role is unique among the prophets, having a direct relationship with G-d. However, as supernatural as that may sound, Moses remains quintessentially human. His character is a complex mixture of strength, weakness, righteousness and most notably, extreme humility. He has been a leader that at times is overwhelmed and frequently reluctant to be the hero. Looking at Moses’s history we can understand how the combination of his personal characteristics and incremental experiences played a role in his leadership development. Ultimately he helps us better understand what leadership really means.
Moses’s whole life had a trajectory toward leadership. Incrementally he faced challenges that defined who he was and helped him develop a sense of confidence for future trials. As a young man, he confronts an Egyptian task master that is menacing a Hebrew, he then confronts a group of shepherds that are harassing the daughters of Yitro, later he challenges the powerful leader Pharaoh, and finally he confronts G-d, asking him to not destroy the people after the golden calf incident. So why, in this weeks parsha, does Moses want to give up his power? Has he met his match, are the Israelites that difficult to lead?
In this week’s parashah, Beha’alotecha, following the exodus from Egypt, the Israelites begin to complain about the manna, they regret leaving their predictable conditions in Egypt and demand meat. New demands and criticism leave Moses overwhelmed. His siblings Miriam and Aaron are speaking poorly of him. He fears failure and becomes depressed. In his despair, he prays to die. In response G-d tells him to appoint seventy elders to help him with the burdens of leadership, six leaders from each of the 12 tribes. Moses is grateful to share his leadership responsibilities. Joshua, Moses’s deputy is concerned with the dilution of Moses power but Moses understands that what he might lose in power he more than gains in influence. He understands that a division of power and a multiplicity of influence can create a more functional community.
Not all of us have power, but we all have influence. That is why we can each be leaders. The most important forms of leadership come not with prestige and power but with the willingness to work with others to achieve what we cannot do alone.
Leaders are people that understand other’s needs and aspirations. They are individuals that can articulate shared ideals. However, what we learn most from understanding Moses’s leadership development is that ultimately it takes more than one person to lead.
A Gitten Shabbes!
Iris Danziger MD is a local Otolaryngologist and a Board Member of both Temple Beth Tzedek and the Buffalo Jewish Federation.