Moses is considered to be the Jewish people’s greatest leader and the model of leadership par excellence.
Yet, Moses is a strange ideal of a leader. He is not a great orator; he is, as he admits, slow of speech. Our sages of blessed memory suggested that he had a speech impediment. Further, he is profoundly humble. In fact, he does not want to lead the Israelites. He only takes the job because God forces him to do so.
Moses is called the most humble of all people and in this week’s Torah portion we have two examples. In Chapter 11, the Israelites complain that they miss the meat they used to eat in Egypt compared to the manna they now eat in freedom in the wilderness. Instead of enjoying their freedom they miss the comforts of slavery, such as they were.
In response, Moses cries out to God, “I cannot carry all this people by myself, for it is too much for me. If You would deal thus with me, kill me rather, I beg You, and let me see no more of my wretchedness!” (Numbers 11:14-15)
The burden of leadership is too much for him, so God responds, “Gather for Me seventy of Israel’s elders of whom you have experience as elders and officers of the people, and bring them to the Tent of Meeting and let them take their place there with you. I will come down and speak with you there, and I will draw upon the spirit that is on you and put it upon them; they shall share the burden of the people with you, and you shall not bear it alone.” (Numbers 11:16-17)
Here we see Moses as a leader who knows his limits, who understands the job is too big for him and is willing to accept the help of others, to share power, in service of his people’s needs.
When two of these leaders, Eldad and Meldad, are so touched by God that they break out into ecstatic dance, Joshua worries they should be restrained, that they are an affront to Moses’ leadership. But Moses responds, “Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD put His spirit upon them!” (Numbers 11:29)
Here again, Moses is happy to share his authority and even his access to God, so that the burden of service can be shared to benefit the people.
We should remember Moses’ example any time a politician tells us that they alone can solve our problems or that only they understand what is ailing us and how to fix it. Moses’ humility, uncertainty and willingness to share power teach how a real leader should behave.
~Rabbi Dean Kertesz