Va'eira - Weekly Torah Portion
“In the tenth year, in the tenth month, on the twelfth of the month, the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Son of man, set your face against Pharaoh king of Egypt, and prophesy against him and against all Egypt.’” In the same Haftarah for this Shabbat reading from the Torah we read further from the words of the prophet Ezekiel, “Now in the twenty-seventh year, in the first month, on the first of the month, the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Son of man, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon made his army labor hard against Tyre; every head had a bald spot and every shoulder was rubbed raw. But he and his army acquired no wages from Tyre for the labor that he had performed against it.’” Moses, viewed as the greatest leader of the Jewish world, does not feel he can simply speak this way. And so we read, “Now the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Go, tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the sons of Israel go out of his land.’ But Moses spoke before the Lord, saying, ‘Behold, the sons of Israel have not listened to me; how then will Pharaoh listen to me, as I am unskilled in speech?’”
It is not the only time Moses responds to such a demand in the exact same way. “Now it came about on the day when the Lord spoke to Moses in the land of Egypt, that the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘I am the Lord; say to Pharaoh king of Egypt all that I say to you.’ But Moses said before the Lord, ‘Behold, I am unskilled in speech; how then will Pharaoh listen to me?’” A solution is readily found though. “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘See, I have made you as God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. As for you, you shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall speak to Pharaoh’”. So, for the Pharaoh Moses shall be like a god and therefore there is no direct speech with him and rather he will hear the words of god through a prophet. Moses also experiences a drill to see how this works. “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Say to Aaron, ‘Extend your hand with your staff over the rivers, over the streams, and over the pools, and make frogs come up on the land of Egypt.’’ So Aaron extended his hand over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs came up and covered the land of Egypt.” Moses speaks and Aaron executes.
Moses is not afraid to speak it is the consequence that he is unsure about, the ability to mobilize the people as a result of what he has to say. From all that is happening he learns that while presentation is important it is not the actual thing leadership is made of. It is not the ability to create all kinds of sophisticated effects or drama, that lead to an uncontrolled following of a leader. The fact that a leader, with only their voice, can make a crowd move does not make them worthy of leadership. They ought to be measured by their deeds, the content of their deeds, and their accomplishments. Presentation has its place and it certainly has some importance but it is not the substance of leadership.
Two simple examples are provided in the passages we read out of the Torah this week. “Aaron threw his staff down before Pharaoh and his servants, and it turned into a serpent. Then Pharaoh also called for the wise men and the sorcerers, and they too, the soothsayer priests of Egypt, did the same with their secret arts.” Later we read, “So Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord had commanded. And he lifted up the staff and struck the water that was in the Nile in the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants; and all the water that was in the Nile was turned into blood. Then the fish that were in the Nile died, and the Nile stank, so that the Egyptians could not drink water from the Nile. And the blood was through all the land of Egypt. But the soothsayer priests of Egypt did the same with their secret arts”. Wizardry can be found in some abundance but true leadership is a rarer bread. Worthy leadership does not need the trickery to exert its leadership.
These are plague days too, the days of the coronavirus. It is not trickery or soothsayer priests that solve the challenges of the pandemic. It is the meticulous and tedious work of scientists who work day and night to find vaccines that treat the illness that will provide refuge from this plague. Here in Israel rapid deployment of the health services enabled the reaching of over two million people being vaccinated to date. It is important to stress over and over again not to heed to those who deny the virus or its severity to avoid the administration of the vaccine. The coronavirus attack of the body may result in an unpleasant illness and even worse. It is therefore that we are compelled to exercise personal leadership and get on time to be vaccinated, both first and second doses. I am scheduled to receive my second injection this coming Sunday and encourage all of you to make sure you do the same.
Shabbat Shalom and wishes for Good Health.
Reuven Marko, 15 January 2021, 3 Shevat, 5781