Shemot: Compassion Trumps Charisma When God Chooses A Leader
12/19/2013 - 22:08
Rabbi Michael Levy
Rabbi Michael Levy
Rabbi Michael Levy

Thirty-two centuries before Time Magazine began selecting "Person of the Year," God chose the "The Person Of the Millennium." His name was Moses.

Moses's Background

As described in this week's Torah portion, Moses was raised by Pharaoh's daughter.He led the luxurious life of a prince.Yet, he was sensitive to the plight of is fellow Israelites, killing an Egyptian taskmaster who was savagely beating an Israelite slave.

Escaping Pharaoh's retribution, Moses fled to Midian.There, he rescued seven shepherdess sisters at a well. He married one of them and became a shepherd for his father-in-law's flocks.

Exodus Rabbah (2, 2) elaborating on the Torah's narration, describes how a lamb once ran away from Moses's flock. Moses followed it until it reached some bushes near a pond of water. There it halted and began to drink.

Moses said, "I didn't know you ran all this way because you were thirsty; you must be tired." He lifted the lamb onto his shoulders and carried it back to his flock. Said God, "You who tend to the sheep with such mercy will be a compassionate leader for My sheep Israel."

When God gave Moses his leadership mission at the burning bush, He did not heed Moses's protestations that as a person with a speech impediment, he could not be a spokesman to Pharaoh. God arranged for Moses's brother Aaron to be his "prophet," conveying his message to the Egyptian monarch.

There would be other tests for Moses to pass, but his compassion, more than his charisma, qualified him to lead the Israelites out of bondage.

True Compassion

The Hebrew word "rachum," often translated as "compassionate," comes from the word "rechem,"-womb.AS Rabbi David Fohrman points out, the womb's sole purpose is to nourish the "potential" of a fetus.The womb has no agenda for itself.I t focuses on the ever-changing needs of the fetus, enabling the growing baby to increasingly function on its own.Finally, the womb relinquishes the baby, launching it onto the long journey towards maturity and independence.

Throughout his life, Moses's primary concern was not his own aggrandizement, but rather he physical and spiritual welfare of the Israelites.With God's nurturing help, he converted the potential abilities of slave descendants into the reality of a holy nation.

Choosing Our Leaders

We would do well to search for the quality of true compassion when we select leaders.Whether in a family, a school or a community, a leader understands that a lamb from his flock may wander off, thirsty for more knowledge, comfort, companionship or security.Focusing on the ever-changing needs of that lamb, a leader will try to guide him/her to healthy springs in a suitable nurturing environment.

Who knows? God may see fit to provide for our community a deeply compassionate leader and spokesperson who just happens to have a disability.

A native of Bradley Beach, New Jersey, Rabbi Michael Levy attributes his achievements to God’s beneficence and to his courageous parents. His parents supported him as he explored his small home town, visited Israel and later studied at Hebrew University, journeyed towards more observant Judaism, received rabbinic ordination, obtained a master’s degree in social work from Columbia University and lectured on Torah- and disability-related topics.

As a founding member of Yad Hachazakah, the Jewish Disability Empowerment Center (www.yadempowers.org), Rabbi Levy strives to make the Jewish experience and Jewish texts accessible to Jews with disabilities. In lectures at Jewish camps, synagogues and educational institutions, he cites Nachshon, who according to tradition boldly took the plunge into the Red Sea even before it miraculously parted. Rabbi Levy elaborates, “We who have disabilities should be Nachshons --boldly taking the plunge into the Jewish experience, supported by laws and lore that mandate our participation.” Rabbi Levy is currently director of Travel Training at MTA New York City Transit. He is an active member of Congregation Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, NY. He invites anyone who has disability-related questions to e-mail him at info@yadempowers.org

 

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