Becoming A Leader

Before God calls on Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery, Moses develops his leadership skills and his ability to see beyond narrow struggles and his role as liberator.

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Provided by the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel, a summer seminar in Israel that aims to create a multi-denominational cadre of young Jewish leaders.

The second book of the Bible is the book of Exodus--Sh'mot. The first portion, which goes by the same name, tells the story of the Egyptians' enslavement of the Jewish people, who have now grown in size and are viewed as a nation, rather than a family or clan.

The Egyptian oppression of the Israelites goes from bad to worse, culminating in a failed attempt by Pharaoh to order the Hebrew midwives to kill the male newborns, followed by the horrible decree instructing his own people to throw all male babies into the Nile.

In an attempt to save their child from this decree, the parents of the baby who will be known as Moses hide him, and then, when he grows too big to hide, place him in a basket on the Nile, where he is picked up and adopted by none other than the daughter of Pharaoh.

Growing Up Rich

Moses grows up in the palace. It is unclear to the reader what the extent of his knowledge of his Jewish origins was. However, we are soon told that Moses grew, and "went out to his brethren, and saw their sufferings." He sees an Egyptian taskmaster striking a Jewish slave. Moses's reaction is swift and violent; he looks around to ascertain that no one is watching, smites the Egyptian, killing him, and buries the body in the sand.

The next day, Moses goes out of the palace again. This time he encounters two Hebrew men, fighting. He reproaches the aggressor: "Why are you hitting your fellow?" This little exchange ends on an even more problematic note than yesterday's--"who made you an official and judge over us? Do you want to kill me, as you killed the Egyptian?" the aggressor says to Moses, ending Moses's attempt at peacemaking.

As Moses feared it would, the news of his killing the Egyptian reaches Pharaoh, who, seeing in Moses an obvious threat, decides to have him executed. Moses runs away from Egypt, settling in Midian, where he immediately has another adventure.

Moses arrives at a well, which, in the Bible, is a good place to meet people. Sure enough, the seven daughters of the local priest arrive, and begin to water their flock. Suddenly, a group of shepherds arrive, and chase the girls away. Moses stands up and drives them away, saving the girls, and, while he is at it, waters their flock.

Becoming a Shepherd

Subsequently, Moses marries one of the daughters, Zipporah, and becomes a shepherd for his father-in-law. It is while he is out in the wilderness with the sheep that he sees a bush, on fire, but not consumed. "I will go over there," he says, "and see this great sight--why is the bush not burnt." It is at this point that God speaks, for the first time, to Moses, and offers him the job of savior and leader of the Jewish people.

In an attempt to understand Moses's development as a person, and why it was that he was chosen by God to lead the Jewish people, I would like to look at the four vignettes described above, which constitute everything we know about Moses before he is chosen by God to lead the Jewish people out of slavery into the Land of Israel, and to receive the Torah. If we look at these four stories, we see four distinct stages in Moses's development, four different modes of behavior on his part.

In the first story, in which he kills the Egyptian, Moses is violent, angry, powerful, aggressive, and also scared. His focus is to protect, avenge, and seek justice for the Jewish people against their oppressors, the Egyptians.

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Rabbi Shimon Felix

Rabbi Shimon Felix is the Israel Director of the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel. He lives with his family in Jerusalem, and has taught in a wide variety of educational frameworks in Israel and abroad.