Parashat Shemot deals repeatedly with the role of a leader. At the very beginning of the Parashah, Ya’akov is mentioned as the leader of Bnei Yisrael as they descend to Mitzrayim. As the Pasuk states (Shemot 1:1), “VeEileh Shemot Bnei Yisrael HaBa’im Mitzrayimah Eit Yaakov Ish UVeito Ba’u,” “And these are the names of the Children of Israel who were coming to Egypt; with Jacob, each man and his household came.” The Pesukim also describe Paroh’s fear of becoming a leader, as he orders every baby boy killed, fearing that one may become a leader. However, one boy, Moshe, is not killed and instead becomes one of the most influential leaders in our nation’s history. Thus, the Parashah sets up a contrast between the leadership of Paroh and Moshe, but how exactly do the two differ?
Paroh, as the king of Mitzrayim, wants to prevent all others from becoming king. Moshe tells Paroh (Shemot 5:1), “Koh Amar Hashem Elokei Yisrael Shalach Et Ami VeYachogu Li BaMidbar,” “So said Hashem, the God of Israel, ‘Send out My people so that they may celebrate for Me in the wilderness.’” To this, Paroh hastily replies (Shemot 5:2), “Mi Hashem Asher Eshma BeKolo LeShalach Et Yisrael Lo Yadati Et Hashem VeGam Et Yisrael Lo Ashalei’ach,” “Who is Hashem that I should heed to His voice to send out Israel? I do not know Hashem, nor will I send out Israel.” This Pasuk is difficult to grasp, as Moshe tells Paroh Who Hashem is when introducing his clause with the word of the “God of Israel.” How could Paroh not know who Hashem is? Perhaps, since Hashem is God, the ultimate leader, Paroh does not want to recognize Him as the Almighty who can command him. Rather, Paroh wants to exercise maximum authority, and thus he feels threatened. Additionally, Paroh fears that Moshe is rising as a leader and therefore, in response, makes the work of Bnei Yisrael extremely strenuous to show that he, Paroh, remains in charge.
However, Moshe is different from Paroh because Moshe does not wish to view himself as the top leader. When Moshe speaks with Hashem for the first time at the burning bush, Moshe states (Shemot 3:11), “Mi Anochi Ki Eileich El Paroh VeChi Otzi Et Bnei Yisrael MiMitzrayim,” “Who am I that I should go to Paroh and that I should take the Children of Israel out of Egypt?” Hashem then comforts Moshe and tells him that He will be with Moshe throughout his entire leadership. This also demonstrates that if we believe that Hashem is always with us, we will be successful.
Lastly, the Torah shows that a leader must be able to handle a nation’s complaints. Bnei Yisrael complain excessively to Moshe, saying, for example, “Asher Hivashtem Et Reicheinu BeEinei Paroh UVEinei Avadav Lateit Cherev BeYadam LeHargeinu,” “For you have made our very scent abhorrent in the eyes of Paroh and the eyes of his servants, to place a sword in their hands to murder us” (Shemot 5:21). Moshe has to listen to and handle many similar complaints from Bnei Yisrael, not only in Mitzrayim, but also later during their journey throughout the Midbar.
Hashem chooses Moshe as a leader because He knows that Moshe will be a humble person who understands that even though he is the leader, he does not have full, complete power, as Paroh thinks he has. Hashem knows that Moshe will always have full belief in Hashem’s ability to assist him in times of need. Hashem knows that Bnei Yisrael will complain consistently, and Moshe will not lose hope but will rather accept Hashem’s help with any difficult situation.
Paroh starts killing baby boys and working Bnei Yisrael tirelessly only when he sees another leader emerging. Unlike the humble Moshe, Paroh does not possess leadership skills, is not willing to believe in a God who has full control, and does not listen to Moshe’s request to let Bnei Yisrael leave for a mere three days. Paroh’s harsh leadership results in severe plagues against him and his nation. On the contrary, Moshe’s leadership results in a nation that continues to live strongly for many thousands of years.
Hopefully, we will all learn from Moshe’s leadership qualities and by keeping in mind the consequences of Paroh’s arrogance and the rewards of the Moshe’s humility, we will succeed as leaders of our nation.