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leadership and friendship

If it’s not a ‘Moses-style’ leadership, then it isn’t really leadership at all.

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

This week’s Torah portion is “Bo” (Exodus 10:1–13:16) ,and in it we continue with the meetings and arguments between Moses and Pharoah. Moses was the leader of his people, the Jewish people, and Pharaoh was the leader of his people, the Egyptians. Let’s take a look at their different styles of leadership.

Moses is demanding the Jewish people be freed. God is sending plague after plague that is smashing the Egyptian people. No water. Frogs in their beds. Their animals are dead. The Egyptian people eventually wanted the Jewish people to go free. All the Egyptians except Pharaoh, that is.

Pharoah doesn’t care about the Egyptian people. Pharaoh cares only about Pharaoh. Pharaoh cares about one-upping Moses. Pharoah cares about showing God that he is more powerful than Him.

This really came to a head right before the final plague, the death of the firstborn. The Midrash (rabbinic literature) says that when the firstborn of Egypt heard what the next plague was about to be, they freaked out. They knew that if Moses said that the firstborn will die, it was really going to happen. After nine plagues, they knew that Moses (God!) was boss. So the firstborn went to Pharoah and demanded that he let the Jews go. Pharaoh’s response: “No way!”

And if you needed any more proof that Pharaoh cared only about himself and couldn’t care less about his own citizens, get this: Pharaoh himself was a firstborn! So when Moses said that all firstborns will die, Pharaoh pleaded with Moses to spare his life. That’s right. He pleaded only for himself. Not for any of the other Egyptian firstborns! Not even for his own firstborn! His life was worth saving…all the rest could be “shahids.” Pharaoh was indeed saved.

Moses, on the other hand, cared about his people. From the killing of the Egyptian who was killing the Jew to begging God to release the people from slavery, to being “angry” at God for causing the Jewish people more work as a result of Pharaoh’s decree that the Jews not be given straw, and more, we see a leader for whom the people’s interests came before his own. Moses — even though he was a prince of Egypt — was called “the most humble” man because when he stood before God ,he knew his place. Remember Moses’ words: “Who am I that I should take the Jews out of Egypt?!” Humility.

This is the difference between autocratic dictatorial leadership and Jewish leadership. In the secular world, it’s all about power and it’s all about “me.” In the Jewish world, in an ideal world at least, it’s about the people.

In fact, a Jewish leader is not supposed to take money for his job! This is because a leader paid by the community might be afraid to stand by his principles out of fear that his salary could be jeopardized. We cannot have the appearance that the people own the leader. The leader must be able to lead without any distractions.

Indeed, Moses was paid by God, not by the people. We are told that Moses was paid for his services by being allowed to keep the dust and remains from the tablets of the Ten Commandments, which were made from sapphire. This made Moses rich!

Most of the world leaders today probably “look” a lot more like Pharoah then they do Moses. I don’t want to givee names or countries, but most leaders, like Pharaoh, care only about themselves. The people they lead are usually a footnote in their agenda.

Don’t ever think that such leadership is proper and should be tolerated. It’s not always in our hands, but never forget that if it’s not a “Moses-style” leadership, then it isn’t really leadership at all.

For more insights by Rabbi Enkin, click on the links below.