Parashat Shemot Why was Moses Chosen to Lead the People of Israel?


Rabbi Professor David Golinkin, President of The Schechter Institutes, talks about leadership qualities. Moses was not chosen to lead the Jewish people because of his rhetorical skills, his military prowess or his legislative ability. He was chosen only because he was a pursuer of justice.

Watch the video and read the full article below.

Moses our Teacher is considered, and rightly so, as the leader of the Jewish people. The question is: why was Moses chosen to lead the people as opposed to someone else?

If you say, because of his rhetorical skills – he himself says “I am slow of speech and slow of tongue” (Exodus 4:10). If you say, because of his prophetic ability (Numbers 12:8), we would reply that that ability was only revealed later on. If you say that he was chosen because of his modesty (Exodus 3:11; 4:13; Numbers 12:3), indeed, that is a good quality, but is that the  m a i n attribute of a leader ? If you say, because of his lineage – he was from the tribe of Levi which was cursed by Jacob (Genesis 49:5-7). If you say, because of his military   prowess, he only participated in the war against Amalek from afar (Exodus 17:8-13) in order to encourage the troops. If you say that he was a great  legislator, all the laws were stated by God, and when a question arose, Moses had to ask God (Leviticus 24:12; Numbers 9:8; 15:34). If you say that Moses was chosen for his  compassion, indeed so is he described in the famous midrash about the kid (Exodus Rabbah 2:2) – but that is not the peshat nor is that a sufficient attribute to lead an entire people.

Rather, if we want to know why Moses was chosen to lead the  People of Israel, we must carefully examine the first passage describing his activities (Exodus 2: 11-22):

  1. “Some time after that, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his kinfolk and saw their labors, he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsmen…he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand” (v. 11-12). In other words, on the very first day of his activities, Moses is revealed as a person willing to protect a Jew against a non-Jew.
  2. “When he went out the next day, he found two Hebrews fighting. He said to the offender: ‘Why do you strike your fellow?'” (v. 13). In other words, on the second day of his activities, Moses is revealed as a person willing to protect one Jew against another.
  3. “Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters. They came…to water their father’s flock, but shepherds came and drove them off. Moses rose to their defense and he watered their flock” (v. 16-17). In other words, a few days after the first two episodes, Moses is revealed as a person willing to protect   one non-Jew against another, even though he was a refugee running for his life.

One can’t help noticing that immediately after these three episodes God appears to Moses in the burning bush (Chapter 3). This comes to teach us that Moses was chosen to lead the People of Israel  because of his inability to with stand injustice regardless of the identity of those involved. Indeed, this point was already emphasized by the Abarbanel (to Exodus, p. 16), by Ahad Ha’am (Kitvey Ahad Ha’am, p. 344) and by Nehama Leibowitz (Iyunim B’sefer Shemot, p. 35).

Moses our Teacher was not chosen to lead the People of Israel because of his rhetorical skills or his military prowess or his legislative ability, but only because he was a pursuer of justice. This is the type of leadership we must look for when we choose leaders and public figures in the State of Israel.