January 2020 – Parshat Va’eira

In 1960 the first live televised presidential debate occurred in the United States between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Those who listened to the debate on radio categorically declared Nixon the winner, believing the veteran lawmaker and orator Nixon to be no match for the young and up-and-coming Senator Kennedy. However, to the surprise of pollsters, those that viewed the debate on TV overwhelming voted in favour of Kennedy. Researchers concluded that Kennedy’s youthful, tanned and charismatic appearance overpowered that of the aging Nixon who reportedly at the time was suffering from a bout of flu and an infection in his knee.

Ultimately it was concluded – and remains ever so true today – that the appearance and demeanour of our leaders and politicians greatly influence our liking, attraction and ultimately our voting for them.

We find in this week’s Parsha of Ve’ara, Moshe being described and alluded to as seemingly lacking in all these assumed necessary qualities for a dynamic leader.

Not only did Moshe stutter but was considered a foreigner by many having grown up in Pharaoh’s palace. All this is in addition to Moshe being a fugitive of the law for many years after killing in self-defense an Egyptian taskmaster.

How is it that Moshe has attained such a revered place in the annals of Jewish history? Why is it that such an individual was appointed by G-d as ‘Redeemer of Israel?’

Fundamentally, when we break it down, Moshe personified three unique and admirable qualities which are needed in the forging of a truly great leader: humility, persistence and unbridled love and care for one’s constituents.

First and foremost Moshe was a highly modest individual. When G-d appears before him at the ‘burning bush’ tasking him with the job of redeeming Israel, Moshe initially refuses responding “who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and should take the children of Israel out of Egypt?” Moshe’s humility not only meant he could serve as an unbiased emissary for G-d, but also meant he was above the whims and sways of public offices, which are so often eroded by self-aggrandizement and conceit.

Additionally, Moshe maintained a never-ending persistence in working and striving for the benefit of ‘Am Yisrael – the people of Israel’. Throughout the characters of the Bible, Pharaoh is considered by far one of the most morally corrupt and heinous. Nevertheless, despite the constant deception, Moshe never relented in petitioning and demanding the famous phrase – “Let my people go.” To quote Sir Winston Churchill, Moshe embodied the saying: “failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Arguably Moshe’s most important and famous characteristic, is his deep unwavering love for those in which he led. Even as a shepard Moshe displayed great compassion towards his “sheep”. Legend is that Moshe only stumbled upon the vision of the burning bush because he was chasing one of his stray lambs, looking to see what had bothered and frightened him.  Despite leading multitudes of people, Moshe’s worry and endearment toward each individual under his care never faltered. Later in the Torah we even find Moshe petitioning G-d to “erase me from Your book (The Torah)” rather than punish any Israelite who had sinned after the giving of the Torah.

The Torah prescribes us to “remember the Exodus of Egypt all the days of your life.” This remembrance includes not only recalling the great wonders our forefathers saw, but to imbue within us their morals and values till this very day.