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Jewish World Review
December 28, 2007
/ 19 Teves 5768
Leadership and rebellion
Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo
Moses as a role model for moderns
Greatness isn't cultivated on a mountain top!
Leadership is one of the most difficult tasks for man to accomplish. It requires a rare combination of wisdom, courage, knowledge and experience. Very few people possess such qualities and even fewer know the art of combining them in a balanced way. When looking into the personality of Moses we are confronted with an astonishing story how he became fit to what must be seen as the most challenging leadership role in man's history: to liberate a few million slaves from an anti-Semitic dictatorship and transform them into a nation of G-d with the task to teach all of mankind the highest level of ethics.
We might think that to be able to inspire a few million people one would need the best religious education available, and only the finest teachers would do. There would also be the need to be holy, and no doubt this would require a well-protected environment in which outside heretical ideologies do not penetrate and in which secularity plays no role. Only under such conditions could one develop into a man who one day would be great enough to have an encounter with G-d and receive His teachings. But in reading the story of Moses, we are confronted with a different truth.
When Moses, for the first time, leaves the palace of Pharaoh to visit his own enslaved brothers, he is confronted with the hard realities of life. Right in front of him an Egyptian strikes a Hebrew, possibly with the intention to kill him. Without any hesitation Moses approaches the Egyptian, smites him and buries him in the ground.
Reflecting on the fact that Moses has just left the home of Pharaoh in which he was raised for many years, we wonder what went through Moses's mind. Whose side was he going to take? Raised in the world of Egyptian culture, receiving instruction from the elite of Egyptian educators, possibly receiving private tutelage from Pharaoh himself to prepare him for the monarchy of Egypt in years to come, Moses must have seen the Egyptian as a compatriot. This was a man of his own culture! Why take any action against him? On the other hand, Moses must have had warm feelings towards the Jew, in spite of the fact that Jews were total foreigners to him. After all, "he came to see his brothers," and so he must have been aware, perhaps only subconscious, of the fact that he was of Jewish stock however far removed he was from anything Jewish.
Psychologists would no doubt raise the question whether Moses was not confronted with the problem of "dual loyalties." How would he be able to decide? Was he an Hebrew or an Egyptian?
A deeper reading of the verses may, however, give us some insight. "And he (Moses) turned this way and that way, and he saw there was no man, and he smote the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. (Exodus 2:12) As suggested by an unknown commentator, this may allude, albeit in an allegorical way, to the condition of Moses's mind: Moses suddenly realized that he lived in two worlds. While his youth was spent in the world of all that Egypt had to offer as far as culture, knowledge, art and religion was concerned, his heart was somewhere else. Deep down there was a Jewish voice speaking to him making demands on him which opposed everything Egypt stood for. It is for this reason that "he looked this way and that way." He realized that he stood at a crossroads in his life, and he realized that "there was no man" i.e. that as long he did not make up his mind to which world he belonged he was no man of any character or strength. He therefore "smote the Egyptian" man within himself and buried him in the sand.
It is this decision which turned the world on its head and which steered mankind in a completely different direction. This decision, "taken within a moment" is possibly the most radical decision ever made in human history causing mankind, Jews and gentiles, to put G-d at the center of their life. But no doubt Moses must have realized that by making an end to his ambivalent situation, he would be destroying all of his future. He would never be the new monarch of
Egypt, he would surely turn the whole of Egypt against him, and he would no doubt become a wanderer and refugee without money and with no future.
It is only after this heroic act that G-d reveals Himself to Moses at the Burning Bush. Only such a man can be a leader. It had to be a man who was raised in a foreign world which was committed to the dolization of a human being and in which morality played no role, that the most outstanding leader of G-d's nation had to emerge. To become a leader one must be a fighter, and no fight takes place without war. It was the "rebel within" which made Moses into the leader of a nation whose function it is to fight and protest.
True, this should not mean that one should expose children to all sorts of anti-religious philosophies so as to make them into strong. Most people do not posses the immense spiritual strength of Moses with the capacity of utilizing secular external influences as catalysts to create spiritual power. This is only true for the very few. But it definitely means that real greatness is only accomplished through boldness and the willingness to fight.
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JWR contributor Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo is a world-renowned lecturer and ambassador for Judaism, the Jewish people, the State of Israel and Sephardic Heritage. Comment by clicking here.
© 2007, Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo