A Lesson in Empowering Leaders

Va'era By :  Matthew Berkowitz Former Director of Israel Programs, JTS Posted On Dec 27, 2013 / 5774

Moses’s intransigence continues in this week’s parashah as our prophet continues to resist his prophetic role. In response to Moses’s self deprecation (referring to himself as “one of impeded speech” (Exod. 6:30), God seeks to bolster Moses’s self-confidence. Declaring, “See, I place you in the role of God to Pharaoh, with your brother Aaron as your prophet” (Exod. 7:1), God tells Moses that his brother Aaron will speak to the Egyptian ruler. How are we to comprehend that God has seemingly diminished the divine ego for the sake of Moses (i.e., telling Moses that he will play the role of God to Pharaoh)?

Professor Ze’ev Falk comments,

Standing before Pharaoh, God appoints Moses as God and Aaron as a prophet because Pharaoh views himself as a god. The relationship between God and a prophet is described in fuller detail in Deuteronomy 18:14–16 and in II Chronicles 20:20 . . . Very similar to this is the Muslim declaration of faith: There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His Prophet. (Divrei Torah Ad Tumam, 130)

As God works on allaying Moses’s very real fears about appearing before Pharaoh and being taken seriously by the latter as well as by his own people, there is a keen understanding of the issues at play. First, God understands that Moses must be seen as an equal by Pharaoh; only then will there be a chance of Pharaoh’s acquiescence. Pharaoh sees himself as a god, and so protocol dictates he must interact with a fellow “god.” Second, Moses’s confidence is fragile at best. By appointing him as “god” to Pharaoh, God hopes to boost Moses’s stature and self-image and, in so doing, make him a successful messenger. Finally, though Moses has been chosen as the leader, God seeks to teach Moses that he cannot do it alone. His brother Aaron will be his right-hand man and, in this respect, their relationship will resemble that of God and a prophet. Just as God needs a prophetic messenger to mediate the divine word, so too does Moses need Aaron. Overall, it is a humbling experience to realize that one cannot succeed singlehandedly; it “takes a village” in so many different ways. These three lessons are important fruit gleaned from the literal text with the aid of Falk’s commentary. May we, like God, have the gumption to diminish our own egos in an effort to empower and embolden others as new leaders blazing their own path toward creativity and freedom.

The publication and distribution of A Taste of Torah are made possible by a generous grant from Sam and Marilee Susi.