The Book of Genesis (B’reshit) concludes with the Israelites staying in Egypt, after the deaths of Jacob (also named Israel) and his influential son Joseph -- the protector of the family.  This is also the end of an era:  a monotheistic family is founded and their covenant with God is established.  The Book of Exodus (Sh’mot) resumes two generations later, still in Egypt, with the birth of Moses (Moshe).  The Israelites have multiplied into hundreds of thousands of people, they suffer persecution and slavery, and the leader who will lead them to freedom and turn them into a nation is born.

Moses was neither the people’s choice nor their idea of a leader.  Actually, he had a speech impediment.  When called upon by God "And now go and I shall dispatch you to Pharaoh and take My people, the Children of Israel, out of Egypt" (Exodus 3:10), he begs to be relieved of the assignment "...for I am heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue" (4:10).  But God insists that this eighty-year-old man is the leader and appoints Aaron, his older brother, to be his public speaker.  In a bit of ridicule God says about Aaron "I know that he will surely speak..." (4:14).  Later, when he was discouraged by the outcome of his first meeting with Pharaoh (Exodus 5) and refused to go back to the king, he was again persuaded to continue the mission in partnership with his older brother (7:1-2).

It is obvious that oratory is not a criterion in God’s choice of a leader.  God’s criteria for leadership are indicated by the small selection of telling anecdotes from Moses’ eighty years of life, as told in the Torah.  Moses was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised comfortably by her servants, but he did not take advantage of this privileged position.  "...Moses grew up and went out to his brethren and observed their suffering..." (Exodus 2:11).  When he saw injustice he intervened, risking his own life, in the defense of the underdog -- either a slave beaten by an Egyptian, a helpless Hebrew beaten by a stronger fellow, or Midianite women harassed by stronger men (2:11-17).  When called upon by God to go and speak to Pharaoh, the first question by this prince turned shepherd is "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh...?"  (3:11).  His humility, and respect to his elders, is also evident in the way he listens to Yitro and accepts his advice about the administration of justice (18:13-26).

Forty years later, following his death, the Torah says "And never again has there arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses..." (Deuteronomy 34:10).  This greatest of all leaders, who led slaves into nationhood, was chosen by God for the strengths of his character: compassion, commitment to justice, bravery, personal sacrifice and humility.  We can learn from this to appreciate and seek in our leaders good character, not appearance.

-- Judah Ari-Gur


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