Under Pressure

When it came to performing under pressure, nobody could beat Moses.

Picture this: The mighty Egyptian Army, with 600 armed chariots, is moving fast toward the western flank of the Children of Israel. Ahead of the Jews is the Red Sea. They prayed that G-d would make a miracle and the Egyptians would be destroyed as they had under the 10 plagues weeks earlier. They didn’t see a miracle and became frightened. Was this the end? And, the wicked turned to Moses.

“Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us to die in the desert? What is this that you have done to us to take us out of Egypt? Isn’t this the thing [about] which we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, ‘Leave us alone and we will serve the Egyptians. Because we would rather serve the Egyptians than die in the desert.'”

Objectively, the Jews had nothing to fear. G-d had shown them the destruction of their enemies in Egypt. He had taken them through the desert under the cloud that protected them from the elements while illuminating the night. Some 600,000 Jews ages 20-60 had walked proudly out of Egypt and to freedom.

But when the Jews heard the trampling of thousands of horses and soldiers they grew scared. After all, just months ago, they had been slaves. They hadn’t forgotten their Egyptian masters.

The commentator Yonatan Ben Uziel, who lived more than 2,000 years ago, explains that the Jews were divided into four factions. One faction urged that the Jews jump into the sea and drown. Another demanded that the people return to Egypt. A third wanted to fight the Egyptians. The last faction hoped that a collective scream would confuse their pursuers and enable their escape.

It was the babble of tens of thousands of voices — all directed at one man. Then, Moses turned to G-d and screamed in desperate prayer. Although he had been repeatedly assured by G-d, the prophet and leader of the Jews simply didn’t know what to do. He and his flock were standing at the shore of the Red Sea while Pharaoh and the Egyptians were gaining speed with swords in hand and murder in their eyes.

G-d restored order. He told Moses to stop screaming. His prayer had been accepted. It was now time to speak to the people and ensure that they keep moving. Moses told those who wanted to jump in the sea not to fear; the redemption would come imminently. To those who wanted to return to Egypt, he demanded that they, too, quell their panic. They would never see the Egyptians again, let alone return to slavery. Moses told those ready to fight that there was no need: G-d would take care of everything. And to the last faction, Moses simply said, “Be quiet and praise G-d.”

Moses’ response to crisis was to trust in G-d. His was a logical argument: Who had brought the plagues and stopped slavery? Who had destroyed the Egyptians? Who had brought the Jews their long-deserved wealth? Would G-d now double-cross the Jews?

Centuries later, King David would undergo a similar test. This time the enemy was Amalek, whose ancestors still rule us today. The huge Amalek army had made its way north toward Jerusalem to the Valley of the Ghosts. David was told not to fight until he saw the palm trees sway.

On this day of battle, however, the wind was still. And the Amalekites were advancing rapidly. David was urged to fight before it was too late.

But David had been told by the prophet not to respond to the Amalekites until he saw the palm trees move. The king, too, was inundated by cries of “We can’t wait!” and “They are coming!”

David’s response was that it would be better to die by keeping G-d’s word than to fight without His protection. And like Moses, David and his people were saved. When the Amalekites were only meters away, a wind came to shake the palm fronds. The Jews were propelled into battle and the Amalekites were decimated.

Moses and David became the paragons of Jewish leadership. They were selfless, consumed with the public’s welfare and always trusted G-d. There was never a pretense that they knew better than G-d. David’s predecessor, Saul, thought so and second-guessed G-d repeatedly until the king was told he was no longer worthy of his crown.

There have been many times when the Jewish leadership dismissed G-d and convinced many of their constituents to do the same. One of the starkest examples was the siege of Jerusalem in 1948. The British had formally left but their military advisers stayed to help the Arabs invade the city. The Jewish Quarter was essentially left undefended. Food, water and fuel were scarce and the Haganah and the new Israel Army, dominated by chaos, were unsuccessful in reaching Jerusalem.

The British, however, didn’t forget the Jews. They coolly recommended that the Jews leave the city, and, if not, call for the intervention of the United Nations. Under the partition vote in the UN months earlier, Jerusalem, with a solid Jewish majority, was slated to become an international city. There would be no place for Jews.

David Ben-Gurion and most of the top members of the Jewish Agency had fled Jerusalem. Other prominent Jews were growing warm to the British idea and gathered signatures for the UN to enter the city and take over. The organizers arrived at the home of Rabbi David Cohen, the top student of the late Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook and regarded as a holy man. He glanced at the petition and tore it up.

“Get out, get out!” the rabbi shouted. “You are traitors to Jerusalem.”

In the end, western Jerusalem was saved. And 19 years later, G-d brought the rest of the city under Jewish control.

Moses fought numerous wars during the years in the desert. He organized the Jews, conducted at least two censuses and dealt with their every need. But the dominant element in his leadership was his faith in G-d. Without that, there could be no success in any area of his administration. He would never have been able to withstand the extraordinary pressure during wars or national crises.

Moses is the role model. Is anybody following?

About the Author
Steve Rodan has been a journalist for some 40 years and worked for major media outlets in Israel, Europe and the United States. For 18 years, he directed Middle East Newsline, an online daily news service that focused on defense, security and energy. Along with Elly Sinclair, he has just released his first book: In Jewish Blood: The Zionist Alliance With Germany, 1933-1963 and available on Amazon.
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