Good Times, Bad Times! That epitomises this week’s sedra. We’ve just had the good times in Egypt with a Pharaoh who valued Joseph’s work and welcomed his family and treated them well. And now the bad times arrive with a new Pharaoh who begins by treating Joseph’s descendants harshly.
Sadly we have seen this so many times before. Medieval Jewish history is full of examples of kings and lords welcoming Jews into their lands when they served a purpose, only to be followed by others who, at a later time, found it equally useful to expel them. Once again, it all comes down to leadership. Good Guys and Bad Guys! Most academics look at what makes a good leader but there are some who emphasise the characteristics of terrible leaders. Douglas Adams writes that “It is a well-known fact that those who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it,“ adding: ”Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made president should on no account be allowed to do the job”.
It seems to me that hesitation and doubt and a genuine reluctance to take the job can be key leadership traits. We see these traits in the first American president, George Washington, in the former Second World War allied commander President Eisenhower, in Vaclav Havel, the Czech dissident who served as the last president of Czechoslovakia from 1989 and in our Queen Elizabeth 11 who was never on track to be monarch but has turned out to be highly suited to the role. And of course we see the reluctant leadership model in our Good Guy of the Sedra, Moses who did not believe he was a worthy messenger for God’s commandments (3:11, 4:1).
Moses is arguably the greatest figure in Judaism other than God. He helps bring the Israelites out of slavery and leads them for the next four decades, until his death just before they enter the Land of Israel. In addition to being a major character in the Torah — spanning the beginning of the Book of Exodus to the end of the Book of Deuteronomy — Moses is traditionally regarded as its transcriber hence the Torah’s alternate name: the Five Books of Moses.
Reflecting on Moses’s leadership skills makes me more and more aware of the lack of political leadership we have today