Looking for a Leader

If you were starting up a synagogue and wanted to hire a rabbi, what would be some of the characteristics you would look for? Certainly, you would seek a person with a stellar Jewish education, it could be a plus if the rabbi’s spouse would bring enriching Jewish experiences to the community, and of course, the rabbi would need to be an excellent speaker. Well, Moses, the greatest teacher/rabbi we ever had, was none of the above.

Take a good look at our teacher, Moses. From the age of two until 20 he is raised in the royal palace of Pharaoh and not with his family where he could learn about their traditions and customs. He then becomes a fugitive, escaping to Midian for the next 40 years until he sees the Burning Bush and returns to Egypt to lead his people. His Rebbetzin, Tzipporah, is the daughter of a retired Midianite Priest. This does not sound like the resume for the greatest Jewish leader there ever was. How did Moses become Moses?

What did G-d see in Moses to appoint him leader over Israel?

The answer can be found in Exodus Rabbah 2:2:
וְאַף משֶׁה לֹא בְחָנוֹ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אֶלָּא בַּצֹּאן, אָמְרוּ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ, כְּשֶׁהָיָה משֶׁה רַבֵּינוּ עָלָיו הַשָּׁלוֹם רוֹעֶה צֹאנוֹ שֶׁל יִתְרוֹ בַּמִּדְבָּר, בָּרַח מִמֶּנּוּ גְּדִי, וְרָץ אַחֲרָיו עַד שֶׁהִגִּיעַ לַחֲסִית, כֵּיוָן שֶׁהִגִּיעַ לַחֲסִית, נִזְדַּמְּנָה לוֹ בְּרֵכָה שֶׁל מַיִם, וְעָמַד הַגְּדִי לִשְׁתּוֹת, כֵּיוָן שֶׁהִגִּיעַ משֶׁה אֶצְלוֹ, אָמַר אֲנִי לֹא הָיִיתִי יוֹדֵעַ שֶׁרָץ הָיִיתָ מִפְּנֵי צָמָא, עָיֵף אַתָּה, הִרְכִּיבוֹ עַל כְּתֵפוֹ וְהָיָה מְהַלֵּךְ. אָמַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, יֵשׁ לְךָ רַחֲמִים לִנְהֹג צֹאנוֹ שֶׁל בָּשָׂר וָדָם כָּךְ חַיֶּיךָ אַתָּה תִרְעֶה צֹאנִי יִשְׂרָאֵל, הֱוֵי: וּמשֶׁה הָיָה רוֹעֶה.

Our sages have taught: Once, while Moses our Teacher was tending [his father-in-law] Yitro’s sheep, one of the sheep ran away. Moses ran after it until it reached a small, shaded place. There, the lamb came across a pool and began to drink. As Moses approached the lamb, he said, “I did not know you ran away because you were thirsty. You are so exhausted!” He then put the lamb on his shoulders and carried him back. The Holy One said, “Since you tend the sheep of human beings with such overwhelming love - by your life, I swear you shall be the shepherd of My sheep, Israel.”

A good leader can have good insight, strategic thinking, and charisma, but the message of the Talmudic teaching above is that the most critical characteristic for a leader is compassion. With compassion comes sensitivity and an overall outlook of caring for others. In our world, we sometimes find leaders that are actually most concerned with themselves. Not Moses. G-d chose Moses because he was a compassionate shepherd.

We are all leaders in one way or another. Either at home, work, school or in an organization. Let’s learn from Moses that the most important characteristics of a leader are compassion and sensitivity.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Epstein
Community Scholar in Residence, Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey