The Perfect Man by Jesse Dunietz


It is clear from Moshe’s prolonged protests against his transition from expatriate Israelite to archetypal leader that he views his selection as both surprising and unwarranted.  There is nothing, he believes, that distinguishes him as leader material; surely Hashem should choose someone with more potential.  Though Moshe may not recognize it (or refuses to), it is that very potential that the Torah spends nearly all of Perek Bet showing he possesses.  The background that the Torah presents about Moshe spotlights his finest leadership characteristics – the many reasons Hashem insists that he must be the man for the job.

The second half of the section that introduces Moshe (Shemot 2:11-22) focuses primarily on three episodes in which Moshe intercedes in others’ disputes.  In the first account, he sees an Egyptian striking a fellow Jew, whom he saves by killing the Egyptian.  In the second story, which takes place the very next day, Moshe interrupts a fight between Jews with words of rebuke for the attacker.  Moshe’s subsequent flight from Egypt leads him to a well in Midyan, the site of his third encounter: when the daughters of Re’ueil are driven away from the well by other shepherds, Moshe comes to their defense and helps water their flocks.  As the Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 2:45) observes, these three incidents establish a pattern of almost compulsive dedication to defending justice.  Moshe simply cannot stand the sight of unfair treatment; the moment he sees any, he rushes to “rise up and save” (Shemot 2:17) the victim, even when he himself is a vulnerable, presumably fearful foreigner, and even after he has suffered in the past for acting on his principles.

The implications for Moshe’s leadership abilities are clear: he will not be a man to stand idly by as his people face suffering or oppression, nor will he be one to allow any unscrupulousness to last long among the people.  Indeed, as Rabbi Chaim Jachter noted in his Chumash Shiur, the progression of stories emphasizes just how altruistically compassionate Moshe really is.  After he kills the Egyptian, he still might be suspected of caring only when a compatriot of his is oppressed by outsiders – but this is refuted by his reaction to the second fight, in which the attacker is a Jew.  Even then, he has shown only that he acts to protect his fellow Jews, regarding whom he arguably has some personal interest; by spontaneously saving the shepherdesses whom he does not even know, he proves that his actions are genuinely motivated by dedication to justice.  Such empathy and such steadfast determination to follow the dictates of morality are crucial for a successful leader of the Jewish nation.

Though the obvious application of Moshe’s penchant for coming to others’ aid is the defense of the Jewish people from outside attackers and from each other, Hashem may have another use in mind for this tendency.  He surely knows, even at this early stage, that Bnei Yisrael’s spiritual road ahead will be a rocky one, and that they will at times inflame His wrath.  The leader He seeks is one who, when presented after the Cheit HaEigel with the challenge, “VeAtah Hanichah Li, VeYichar Api Vahem VaAchaleim,” “And now allow Me, and My anger shall blaze against them, and I shall annihilate them” (32:10), will perceive the cue to argue on the nation’s behalf against His anger.  Indeed, Chazal praise Moshe for his quickness in that instance to challenge Hashem’s decision.  Perhaps, then, an additional reason why Hashem chooses Moshe is this willingness to defend the nation even from the most fearsome of assailants – God Himself.

The specific nature of each of Moshe’s responses also points to his fitness for leadership: over the course of the three episodes, he demonstrates his ability to interact with others in the modes most commonly needed by leaders.  In the first story, he actually kills the offending Egyptian, an unequivocal affirmation that he is not afraid to use force when necessary.  This willingness must, of course, be moderated by the tactic he uses in the second story, in which all he does is speak to the disputants – he knows to mediate when appropriate.  Finally, Moshe shows in the third incident, in which he steps in without addressing or coercing either party, that he is able to act unilaterally as well.  Without attempting to directly influence the behavior of any others, he ensures on his own that the right thing is done.  Thus, Moshe can work with, against, and around others, three models of interaction that the head of any type of organization, particularly a national leader, must be able to use.

In short, then, Moshe is Hashem’s perfect candidate.  With his sense of justice and morality, his willingness to stand by his people through thick and thin, and his flexible approach to interacting with others, he is the first choice for spiritual leader of the Jewish people, and through them he becomes the exemplar for all future generations of Jewish leaders.

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