The Unknown Soldiers and the Unfound Leader

We just marked 7 Adar, the birth date of Moshe Rabbeinu and the anniversary of his passing.  Our tradition teaches that, on that day, the Almighty personally buried Moshe in an unmarked grave that will forever remain unknown.   Uniting History, the modern State of Israel has also chosen this date as a memorial day for our fallen soldiers who have not (yet?) been brought to burial — the “Unknown Soldiers.”

At the same time as we remember our greatest leader and our brave warriors, the Jewish State is launching yet another elusive search for today’s Unfound Leader of Israel.   Moshe’s resting place is not known, but the story of his life tells us what to look for.

The Unfound Leader puts the Nation of Israel’s welfare first. When God, outraged by Israel’s worshipping of the Golden Calf,  resolved to destroy the people and offered Moshe a better flock to lead, Moshe did not pause to consider his career:  “If you do that,” Moshe tartly retorted, “then wipe me out of your Book.”  God relented and gave the Jews yet another chance.

There is no question that Moshe would concede today’s election and resign his leadership in a heartbeat to avoid Jewish suffering.  So should the Unfound Leader.

The Unfound Leader respects opponents, treating them as legitimate alternatives in spite of fundamental disagreements , like the Houses of Shammai and Hillel did. When Moshe’s cousin, Korah, fomented an insidious rebellion against Moshe’s leadership, pretexting a dispute out of thin air, Moshe threw himself at Korah’s feet begging for peace.

Today, Moshe would surely not cry foul or conspiracy against opponents, send his attack dogs to agitate in front of their tents, or treat them like common criminals – regardless of their misdeeds.  Neither should the Unfound Leader.

The Unfound Leader does not trade in the currencies of fear and resentment, but instead knows how to stoke the spark in each Jewish soul and to speak to the Jewish heart.   Moshe started off with a disgruntled band of slaves who preferred the taste of stew in bondage than the responsibility of a free life and higher calling.  Enjoined by God to “speak to their hearts,” Moshe inspired them to jump in the uncharted waters of the Red Sea with newfound trust in their destiny.

In a mere matter of weeks, the fearful slaves addicted to onions and fish stood proudly against the mountain at Sinai, “as one person with one heart,” to receive a Divine message that would forever transform humankind.

Today, Moshe would speak to the higher Jewish essence, that which yearns to enlighten, and which bonds and unites for the sake of that greater mission.  Moshe would neither seek out power for its own sake nor borrow from tired divide-and-conquer political playbooks to preserve it for himself.

It’s not us against them, it’s us and us, Moshe would say.  And so should our Unfound Leader.

It bears remembering that Moshe was a reluctant leader, anxious to turn down the job until forced into it by the Almighty.  Will someone seeking to emulate Moshe’s humility in the pursuit of our greater mission please stand up?  We owe it to the memory of our Unknown Soldiers to do all we can to find that other Reluctant Leader.

About the Author
Ari Afilalo ( is a professor of law at Rutgers Law School in New Jersey. He grew up in France, the son of a Jewish Moroccan family, in an ethnically mixed working class neighborhood. He has published extensively in the field of international law. He is the current president of the West Side Sephardic Synagogue in Manhattan.
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