What Kind of Leader

Jan 17th, 2012 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Portion of the Week
When I heard a rabbi describe himself as, “the Rav Moshe Feinstein of our generation,” I realized that it’s not just presidential candidates who claim to be the reincarnation of Lincoln or Reagan, but people in all areas of life who claim to lead as did a great person from the past.

It’s not always so blatant; I observe rabbis imitating their teachers when responding to a halachic question, using their teacher’s words and mannerisms. People imitate those they admire. They appear to lead as did their teacher. I always heard my grandfather zt”l consider how his rebbi, the Alter of Slabodka, would have responded to a situation, but he never tried to be his teacher; he was who he was; deeply rooted in the past, but highly sensitive to the present and future. Yesterday, my sister and I were discussing how extraordinary it was for a man so rooted in the Yeshiva world of Europe to be so aware of the different needs of American students.

What happens when a situation demands an entirely new type of leader? The Rambam was unlike anyone before him; his approaches disconcerted the established rabbinic authorities of his time. The Baal Shem Tov responded to the unique demands of the post Shabtai Tzvi and Chelministki pogroms with an entirely new approach. He certainly shook up the establishment! We then have the iconoclasts who define themselves as such in imitation of the Baal Shem Tov. They present themselves as “unique” in imitation of someone else!

Which takes us back to Moshe: His generation, the slaves in Egypt, needed a leader who was different from the Patriarchs and Joseph. We suggested in “All in the Family,” that when the people “forgot” Joseph they were severing a link to the past. Perhaps, it was an expression of a deeper sense of disconnect; a sense that even Joseph would be unable to save them from their current situation. No wonder Moshe insists to God, “They will not believe in me!” They need a leader who will carry them as an alate protector, “On the wings of eagles,” not someone with a speech impediment!

Even if he can perform a bunch of miracles and claim them as signs; What kind of leader is Moshe projecting? We know that he wants to insert God into their vocabulary, (see “Debate Performance”) and succeeds only to disappoint them when their situation gets worse. Moshe begins to wonder what kind of leader he will be (“A Leader’s Spirit.”)

We will explore his decision making as we began in “Moment to Decide,” and attempt to diagnose the symptoms exhibited by the nation he was to lead.

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