The past year has seen quite furious discussion as to the nature of leadership – both in Israeland throughout the world. This week’s parashah presents us with this issue as we view the conflict between Moshe and Pharaoh and their leadership of their respective nations. How does the Torah define the nature of the individual worthy to stand at the helm of any population?
God smites the Egyptians in order to force them to send forth His nation from their midst. Every aspect of the Egyptian people’s lives is persistently afflicted – they endure economic, physical, and environmental adversities. As the intensity of the Plagues increase, so the Egyptians – save Pharaoh – become more convinced of God’s might. Pharaoh does not perceive the havoc that the plagues wreak among his people and in his kingdom. Pharaoh’s sole concern is his own personal welfare – the terrible assault on his status as a divinity and his defeat at the hands of the God of the Hebrews. Pharaoh is blinded by his conception of the private, personal battle being waged against him as Pharaoh.
The Midrash relates that after the Plague of the Firstborn Pharaoh lays the blame on the shoulders of his advisors and counsellors, executing them. When he has suffered a crushing blow and has almost nothing left to lose, he lashes out in an attempt to protect his own hide. Having brought this catastrophe upon him and his people, Pharaoh fails to admit any short failing and brushes aside any responsibility for the consequences of his personal behaviour. When he finally understands and is prepared to free Bnei Yisrael, he frantically searches for Moshe and Aharon. The story is told of how Pharaoh, the Egyptian divinity, searches and searches for Moshe and Aharon, all the while the Jewish children taunting him as he scuttles from house to house in his search.
While there is a mitzvahincumbent on every Jew to write a Sefer Torah for himself, there is an additional mitzvahthat applies to the king. “And it shall be, when he sits upon the throne of his kingdom that he shall write for himself a copy of this Torah in a book from that which is before the priests the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life; that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, to keep all the words of this Torah and these statutes, to do them; that his heart not be lifted above his brothers, and that he not turn aside from the commandment to the right or to the left; in order that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Yisra’el.” (Devarim 17:18-20).
The leader of Yisra’el is to bear the welfare of his nation; his sole concern must be the good of each and every member of Am Yisra’el – which far supersedes his concern for his own welfare. The Torah cautions Bnei Yisra’el’s leader as to pursuing his own honour and the glory associated with his lofty position. He must have the constant awareness that it is he who must serve his nation with devotion, for his foremost thought must relate to the grave responsibilities of leading God’s nation. The Jewish king knows that he is king for God wills it; he must observe God’s every word, and he knows that he does not stand at the pinnacle of the nation – for God is above him.
Our contemporary reality places great emphasis on ones pride and self-confidence. As one gains importance and fame, so he must become haughtier and more arrogant in order for everyone to recognize his status and high position. This is true of our politicians, cultural giants, and celebrities. The Gemara compares arrogance to idolatry, for in both cases one distances God’s presence from his life.
Moshe is termed “the humblest of all man” (Bemidbar 12:3), for when he first stood before God he fully appreciated Who it was he stood before. As one’s spiritual personality grows so one becomes humbler and more modest. As we approach God, so we realize our limited reality, our weaknesses, and our finite existence. We internalize the concept that life is transient and unstable – God can affect changes to our realities at any time. Any other perception of this world denies God His true place in the universe.
How does one become a leader? He assumes the position out of his own free will, often in an attempt to attain influence, honour, and glory. The Torah leaves no room for these concepts in its classification of a leader – his persona must be entirely detached from any pursuits of fame or personal success. One becomes a leader for one sole reason: those beneath him respect and admire his qualities as a leader and are willing to rely on his judgment. He does not stand for election; he is approached by the member of his society to assume the leadership over them. The Torah leader must remain aloof from even the smallest morsel of glory.
Certainly, our world would be a completely different place if our leaders fitted the Torah mould of the leader!