Responsibilities of a leader

What are the responsibilities of a leader? It clearly isn’t to “let the people run wild” as Aaron did. When Israel came to Aaron to demand a God to worship in place of Moses, he didn’t object. Instead, he said “give me your gold jewelry” and used it to make a molten calf.

The word being used for how Aaron let the people get is פרע[1], to go wild or let loose. It is the same root as פרעה. Pharaoh, who thought he was god, is at the end of the story governing an Egypt which is out of control. Similarly, by acquiescing to the Israelites’ request, Aaron enables them to get out of control. Aaron thus abdicated his duty in Moses’ absence.

As a leader, sometimes the right word to say is “no”. There is a Midrash that Aaron only said yes because he could not control the mob; they had killed Hur and would kill him as well. However, I see that is apologetics and instead of bringing patience to the Israelites, Aaron enables their destructive behavior. As Moses’ partner in crime with Pharaoh, Aaron is quick to turn away from Moses and give the people the molten god they demand. He is also quick to throw in an excuse, telling Moses “Don’t be enraged; you know that this people is bent on evil. They said to me, ‘Make us a god to lead us; for that man Moses, who brought us from the land of Egypt-we do not know what has happened to him. So I said to them, ‘Whoever has gold, take it off! They gave it to me, and I hurled it into the fire and out came this calf!”[2] In other words, he exonerates himself, acting like he wanted to burn the gold rather than create the calf.

The lesson to learn from this is that leaders need to take responsibility for their actions rather than make excuses. We need to admit when we fall short. I hope that we will be able to learn this lesson rather than repeating the mistakes of Aaron by enabling destructive behavior.


[1] Exodus 32:25

[2] Exodus 32:22-24

About the Author
Rabbi Ben Herman joined Bet Shira Congregation in 2019. He values personally engaging with each individual he meets and hearing their story. Karina and he are the parents of two beautiful girls: Ariela Shira and Leora Rose.
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