Modesty is the top attribute for a Jew and for a leader. Only with a strong sense of modesty can one fight off all the temptations of power and corruption.
In this week’s Torah portion, Shemot (Exodus 1:1-6:1), we read the episode of the burning bush on Mount Sinai. Although one might have thought the burning bush episode was a 10- or 15-minute event (at least in the movie it is!), our sages teach us that Moses was at the burning bush, in dialogue with God, for seven full days!
What was the topic of this conversation?
As you know, at the burning bush God appointed and assigned Moses the job of taking the Jewish people out of Egypt. There was one problem, though. Moses refused the job! God didn’t give up and kept pressuring Moses to take the job. Moses didn’t give up either, and would repeatedly respond with excuses such as: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should take the Children of Israel out of Egypt?” And God would respond, “I will be with you and this is the sign that I have sent you: When you take the nation out of Egypt, you will worship the Lord on this mountain.”
Well, we all know the ending: Moses accepts the job and becomes the greatest leader of the Jewish people of all time. But what was this “sign” that God was referring to? What kind of “sign” is an address for a future place of worship? Moses wanted some kind of sign or code to tell the Jewish people that would prove that he was indeed the Divinely appointed leader! And why did Moses continually refuse the job?
What’s going on here?
The commentators explain that the biggest proof that Moses was the right man for the job was that he said, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?” It was precisely Moses’ attribute of extreme modesty that qualified him to be the leader of the Jewish people. Indeed, the Torah tells us that Moses was incredibly modest; he was never interested in fame or prestige. That was the sign that Moses was the man
When a major company is seeking a CEO, the job description and necessary skills usually read something like this: a good communicator, organized, skilled leader, knows how to delegate necessary tasks, can make a good cup of coffee (just joking) etc. etc. The Torah, however, is teaching us that the most important attribute in being a good leader is the “Who am I” attribute. Modesty. Humility. Sensitivity. Those are the true attributes of a CEO, at least from the Torah’s perspective!
Indeed, do you know why Mount Sinai was chosen to be the mountain on which the Torah was given? Because it was a “modest” mountain: not too high, not too famous and not too prominent.
Moses had very few of the skills needed to be a CEO today. He couldn’t even speak well! He had a lisp and he stuttered. Moses probably couldn’t get a very good job today! But he had the most important skill, the “Who am I” skill!
Modesty is the top attribute for a Jew and for a leader in particular. Only with a strong sense of modesty can one fight off all the temptations of power and corruption.
So the next time you want to convey your skills and qualifications, be sure to give over your strong sense of modesty. But be sure to do so gently and tactfully… you don’t want to come across as a show off. (Just kidding…)
For more of Rabbi Ari Enkin’s insights into this week’s Torah portion, click the links below: