Moses: A lesson in leadership


Happy Passover to all three readers of my Blog. Today, we shall read a sermon about great leadership at work, and of the relevance of ancient Judaism to our current political life.

These week we, Jews, celebrate the exodus – the miraculous escape of more than half a million Jews from slavery in Egypt. Their 40-years journey through the desert. Mount Sinai. The giving of the Torah. And the epitome of leadership: Moses.

Out of sheer sloth, I will assume that my readers are verse in the stories. For those who are not, take a look at wikipedia. What interests me is the great leadership shown by Moses (and his God). Through the first chapters of their tour of the Sinai desert, it becomes apparent that the people are not fit to be led by the great leader. They tire him by relentlessly asking to be fed, defended, and led. They show more interest in golden statues than in abstract deities. What Moses does in the story, reminds me of Berthold Brecht’s remark regarding the true followers of Moses – The governing party of the late German Democratic Republic:

The people had forfeited the confidence of the government and could win it back only by redoubled efforts.Wouldn’t it be easier to dissolve the people and elect another in their place?

Which is exactly what Moses does. The great leader takes his people on a 40 year travel, so as to rid himself of the bickering mob, and remould their children into a rough warrior-like tribe, capable of mass murder. The People is not fit – so he replaces it. A towering moral example if there ever was one.

Should I have dubbed this post  “a lesson in soviet-type leadership”?

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8 thoughts on “Moses: A lesson in leadership

    1. mousomer Post author

      Tal, please don’t tell me that the irony was too thin to notice! We are talking here about the worse possible type of leadership – the one that killes everyone off because it cannot deal with the people. And you’re agreeing with me that it’s great leadership?!?

      Reply
      1. Tal yaron

        Well, we have disagreement 🙂

        Mickiavely said in The Prince, that freedom lye in the harts of people (I am shortening his massage that was written in two chapters). people has to get used to live free, and some-time we have to wait, till they are ready.

        Mosses knew this, and he had to wait 40 years for a new generation, which didn’t live as a slave. only then they could get their freedom.

        Reply
  1. mousomer Post author

    I know all the usual excuses. I’ve been, after all, to a Jewish school. The soviets had even better excuses. But, after everything is said, it is of importance to go back to the original goals and do a reality check.
    Moses sets on freeing a slave-nation. In the process, he has to get rid of them all. That is failiure. A total blunder.
    There is, of course, another way to read this (which is slightly more terrifying): he is not interested in saving the people, but in using them to promote an idea. If the idea is more important than the people it is supposed to serve, then the whole talk about freeing them from slavery is an empty propoganda.

    Reply
  2. Tal yaron

    Omer.,
    We ca look at this story, in either ways. I think that this is mostly a story, and it is dificult to undestand what “realy” hapand.
    I am looking at it very diffrently. I see Mosses as a man of justice, and a hemble man. a man looking at his people and knowing that their spirit is what keep them slaves. He know that only in a society of justice, a man can be free.
    We see it in the quarle between the two hebrews. when he tryes to promote justice, and they try to stay in a violonce society. we can see it in Korach that tries to promote himself, only for his glory, and not for becoming neare to God.

    etc.

    but I think it is mostly in my mind. I am sure that the story can be intrupetd in other ways.

    Reply
    1. mousomer Post author

      My reading of the text goes further. The entire bible can be read as a struggle between theory and practice, usually incarnated as justice v.s. politics. You see it further on in Saul v.s. Samuel, the kings v.s. the prophets, and on and on.

      Actual politics is messy. It is full of nasty compromises, concessions, and very often corruption and crime. The prophet – and Moses is more of a prophet than a politician – has an easy going. He doesn’t have to do the actual politics. He is an outside critic. As such, he can promote lofty ideals as well as a demand for purer religious practice (e.g. Elija). The criticism is crucial, because, as we know, in the dark, politics can easily deteriorate to despotism. But, the prophet is also cut off from the actual drama of real life, and bears no responsibility on the outcomes of actions. He is a man of god, not of the people.
      Moses is the epitome of the prophet. He is a terrible politician. One of the worse in the whole biblical narative. He has no patience for the neccesities of life of the people he drags along. His dealing with trouble is usually to kill thousands of them until the rest finally shut up. As a leader he is utterly inept. And the 40 years in the desert is the hight of it. This is the story of what happens when you let an overzealot ideaologue take over.

      The book of kings shows the other extreme – the victory of small, corrupt, politics over the ideals. Ends in destruction. I prefer something in between. In the struggle between the prophet and the king, neither should win.

      Reply
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