Who is worthy to lead the Jewish people? What leader deserves the faith of his people? These are question that weigh heavily on our minds during these fateful election days, as they weigh on Moshe’s mind when he is “offered” the first position of national Jewish leadership in history.
Although Moshe didn’t campaign, and wasn’t voted in, the Torah’s answer to this question, repeated in various forms over chapters 3 and 4, is deeply democratic. It is the absolute contrast to the Pharaonic model, reflected and supported by Yosef’s policies in the days of famine, in which the leader is divinely chosen to be a sub-deity who owns the land and the people and can do with them as he sees fit. In the Jewish model, the leader is also divinely chosen, but he is chosen to serve the people. A leader is literally a civil servant, a slave to the people, and not the other way around.
This revolutionary conception of leadership is reflected in Moshe’s concern that the people will not accept him, but even more so, it is emphasized by rabbinic understandings of God’s answer to this concern. The Torah records a number of miraculous signs that are meant to convince the people that Moshe is God’s messenger, but the Midrash understands that their message is primarily directed at Moshe. If the leader serves the people, then the first condition of leadership is to have faith in the people you serve. God had told Moshe that the people would listen to him, but Moshe’s doubting this promise is punished not because it reflects a lack of faith in God, but because it reflects a lack of faith in the Jewish people.
Rashi takes this Midrash a step further, returning the idea to the plain meaning of the text. Who is a leader who deserves to enjoy the faith of his people? The one who presents himself as being obligated, above all, to have faith in his people.
My own little daily 929 insight, in 300 words or so. What’s 929? A near-impossible challenge of consistency. A song of Jewish unity. A beautiful project worth checking out. Learn more at 929.org.il