Rabbi Michael Rosensweig
Rabbi Michael Rosensweig

Moshe Rabbeinu's Legacy of Leadership

The beginning of Sefer Shemot chronicles the development of Moshe Rabbeinu, the penultimate exemplar of Jewish leadership, as he increasingly assumes this mantle. In two crucial and formative encounters, Moshe's special role, as well as his unique relationship with Hashem, is strikingly formulated by contrasting the Divine name invoked in connection with his mission with that utilized in connection with the avot (forefathers). A brief examination of Rambam's interpretation of these two episodes and formulations may further illuminate Moshe's special legacy of leadership.

In the first revelation, in the context of the "burning bush", Moshe inquires how God is to be represented to the nation--"ve-amarti lahem elokei avoteikhem shelahani aleikhem; ve-amru li mah shemo, mah omar aleihem?" He is told to respond with a new and unusual Divine reference, albeit to remind the nation that He remains the God of the avot (Shemot 3:14-15). Rambam (Moreh Nevukhim I:63) notes that while the avot and perhaps others had previously experienced individual Divine revelation, Moshe's encounter constituted the first prophetic mission in history, as he was mandated to share the prophetic message with the nation. The integration of the highly personal prophetic experience with national destiny required a different approach, reflected in the different representation of God's identity.

In the beginning of parshat Va-Eira, with Moshe already having embarked upon his mission to liberate Kelal Yisrael from Egypt, Hashem takes the initiative in accenting His different relationship with Moshe, again as signified by means of a different Divine representation. We are informed (Shemot 6:2,3): "Va-yedaber Elokim el Moshe, va-yomer elav ani Hashem. Va-eira el Avraham...u-shemi Hashem lo nodaati la-hem". Rambam (2:35; Perush ha-Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:1:7; Yesodei ha-Torah 7:6; Ramban, Shemot 6:2) suggests that these pesukim establish the unparalleled quality of Mosaic prophecy, hinted at elsewhere in the Torah (Bamidbar 12:6-8:Devarim 34:10-12), which forms one of the thirteen principle tenets of Judaism, and serves the foundation for yet another- the immutability of the Torah, the content of that unique prophecy.

The two episodes-formulations underscore two contrasting dimensions of Moshe's personality and leadership, the integration of which constitute his special legacy, establishing the model for ideal Jewish leadership. Moshe's special qualities and capabilities, as well as his potential stature as a spiritual giant were apparently innate. The Torah (Shemot 1:2) records that "va-tera oto ki tov hu". Hazal indicate that Moshe's presence illuminated the home. They understand that his special qualities were apparent not only to his family, reflected in the construction of his teva, in which the stench of the tar was kept outside, but were evident even to Paroh's daughter, drawn to an extraordinary baby exhibiting the behaviour and character of both naar and yeled (1:6). Although, he was the object that was drawn from the water, she instinctively named him Moshe, connoting that he would exercise initiative and leadership (Ibn Ezra and other mefarshim Shemot 1:10). At the same time, it is noteworthy that Moshe initially expresses and develops his greatness not in the spiritual realm, but precisely through his humanity, by means of his empathy with Klal Yisrael- "Vayehi ba-yamim ha-hem va-yigdal Moshe va-yeze el ehav va-yare be-sivlotam..." (Shemot 1:11). Hazal understand that his initial encounter with the Shechinah was consequent upon his development as a shepherd, a process which inculcated sensitivity and responsibility (3:1-2).

It is consistent with this theme, that the special representation of the Divine name that emerges from that initial encounter accents precisely Moshe's national obligation, underscoring that his spiritual stature is inherently intertwined with the destiny of Klal Yisrael. Moreover, it is in keeping with the dialectial, yet integrated nature of Moshe's personality and leadership that once committed to the political role, he would now be made aware of his unique personal spiritual status as an unsurpassed prophet whose communication with Hashem defied all previous and future models. We might have anticipated that these two developments be transposed given the distinctive contexts. After all, the sneh encounter was an intensely personal religious experience while the formulation of a different relationship in Va-Era is enmeshed within the strategic approach to Paroh and Klal Yisrael. Moreover, Moshe's innate potential and charisma preceded his empathy, and undoubtedly it was his spiritual credentials that qualified him for that initial revelation as well. The Torah projects a powerful lesson by reversing its emphasis in these two episodes.

The intricate relationship between Moshe and Aharon, reflected in Va-Era and later in their diverse formal functions, confirms the complexity and multidimensionality of Jewish leadership. While both are crucial to the process of yeziat mizrayim, the Torah occasionally reverses the order of their priority (Shemot 6:13, 26-27). Some commentators suggest a practical explanation: Aharon was well-known and trusted by Klal Yisrael, while Moshe, a virtual stranger to his own people, was a familiar figure in Paroh's court (Neziv, 6:27). Rashi, however, insists that the Torah simply intended to establish their equal contributions. Hazal indicate that the initial charge to redeem Klal Yisrael was issued simultaneously to both Moshe and Aharon (Yalkut Shimoni, Shemot no. 174). Rashi's comment is not inconsistent with the accepted view of Moshe's spiritual superiority, but undoubtedly reflects the complex agenda and diverse nature of Jewish leadership.

In this light, it is particularly interesting that Moshe emerged as the national leader of Klal Yisrael and the symbol of malkhut, while Aharon was entrusted with the institution of kehunah, with its spiritual and ideal emphasis on the mikdash and purity. While both Moshe and Aharon integrated the spiritual-national dialectic of "ameikh ami" and "elokayikh elokai" (Ruth 1:16), one might have expected that the unsurpassed "eved Hashem", Moshe, who had a special affinity to the laws of sacrifices and purity, would find his ultimate fulfillment in kehunah (see Yalkut Shemoni, beg. of Vayikra). This expectation might also have been rooted in an assessment of the personalities of Moshe and Aharon, as well. Moshe, occasionally impatient with the flaws of Klal Yisrael, is described as the rigid idealist who eschews compromise in favor of "yikov ha-din et ha-har "(Sanhedrin 6b), while Aharon, who earned the epithet of "ohev shalom ve-rodef shalom", projects pesharah (compromise) as an ideal, and developed the kind of relationship with the entire Klal Yisrael that is reflected in the reaction of "va-yivku et Aharon sheloshim yom kol beit yisrael" (Bamidbar 20:29) to his passing. Upon further reflection, however, it may be suggested that this ambitious integration of national destiny and personal spirituality is particularly well-served precisely by projecting the strongest emphasis of spiritual standards in national leadership, even as the values of intense human empathy and sensitivity reflected by Aharon ha-Kohen, are associated with the purist realms of kodashim and taharot.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that the Torah, precisely in this context in Vaera (6:14-29) finds it necessary to locate Moshe and Aharon within the framework of the rest of the shevatim - "hu Aharon u-Moshe...hem ha-medabrim el Paroh...hu Moshe ve-Aharon"(6:26-27:)- lest their impressive spiritual credentials and charismatic feats be misconstrued. It is important that we appreciate that their common origins in Klal Yisrael, as well as their special spiritual and leadership qualities qualified them for their unique role in this particularly challenging and defining era in Jewish history.

The final pesukim of the Torah itself, in summing up Moshe's legacy, and perhaps by implication, the Torah's special perspective on spirituality and leadership, focuses precisely on the dialectic of national-spiritual achievement (Devarim 34:10-12). While the initial emphasis is on Moshe's unique prophecy- "ve-lo kam navi od be-yisrael ke-Moshe asher yedao Hashem panim el panim"--, the immediate transition to his mission of national destiny--"lekol ha-otot ve-hamoftim asher shelaho Hashem laasot be-eretz Mizrayim"-- as well as to his effective leadership vis a vis Paroh-- "le-Paroh u-lekol avadav u-lekol arzo." underscores the various dimensions of his leadership.

In addition to his status as the unsurpassed navi, as "eved Hashem"(Devarim 34:5), and as national leader, Moshe was also the vehicle for mattan and kabbalat ha-Torah, also serving as the first link in the historic chain of the tradition of Torah she-baal peh. It is evident that in this capacity, quite simply captured in the title Moshe "Rabbenu", all of his other functions and dimensions converge. Hazal characterize Torah, too, as a realm, but emphasize that this crown, in contradistinction to the keter malkhut and kehunah, is accessible to all. Indeed, it is precisely the content of Torah and the process of Torah study that most fully integrates all of the spiritually and nationally ambitious dimensions reflected in both of Moshe's early encounters.

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