THOUGHT FOR PARSHAT SHEMOT 5781
BY RABBI CHAIM FACHLER
What makes for a good leader?
Why was Moshe chosen by HaShem as THE leader of the future Nation of Israel? What attributes did he have over others in his generation?
Sometime ago, I heard a eulogy given by the current Sanzer Rebbe on his father, the revered Klausenberger Rebbe z”l, who lost his wife and all 11 children in the Holocaust, but after miraculously surviving years in concentration camps, built a new family, provided assistance to tens of thousands of fellow DP’s and refugees, built orphanages and old age homes, and eventually founded Netanya’s Laniado Hospital as well as actively encouraging and helping the late Dr Moshe Rothschild to build Mayanei Hayeshua.
He asked why his father dedicated so much time and energy on building social welfare and health facilities, as opposed to building more yeshivot or other much needed educational institutions. His answer was that before a spiritual leader can demand that his followers achieve a certain level of religious practice and commitment, he first needs to provide for their physical and social needs.
It was the example set by Moshe that taught us this lesson. In this, the first Parsha of Sefer Shemot, we discover how Moshe risked his life protecting his people. And later, Moshe had many experiences as a simple shepherd, and there are several beautiful midrashic stories describing his characteristics. He didn't want the job of leader, and even angered HaShem by repeatedly refusing to accept the call. And when eventually forced to take the position, his characteristics of Chesed, caring, leading by example, and taking the side of the Children of Israel against HaShem get him into trouble towards the end of the Parsha. “HaShem, why have You done evil to this people? From the time I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your Name he did evil to this people, but You did not rescue Your people!”
Moshe, the ultimate leader, first gained the respect of his flock, and only then felt able to forge them into the spiritual and holy nation – as prescribed by HaShem.
Lord Acton is accredited with coining the phrase: "Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely". As I have pointed out in the past, both the Netziv and Rabbi Shimshon Refael Hirsch explain that this phrase has its origins in the section of the personal sacrifices described in the first Parsha of the next Book, Vayikra. Noting that with all individuals, the phrase “If he transgresses” is used, but with the “Nassi”, the Torah states “When he transgresses”, they clarify that when someone feels too empowered, when their “position” goes to their head and they feel above the people they are supposed to serve, they will categorically transgress - sooner or later.
Too often, we see so-called leaders who demand respect instead of commanding respect. Personal example and natural humility create better leaders than blinding ambition and an attitude of being above the law.
Please HaShem. Our nation, our people, our land, our country, all countries, need true leaders. True spiritual leaders, true political leaders and true social leaders.