Shemot, Exodus 1:1-6:1
And the Lord became angry with Moses. The text literally states that the anger of the Lord was kindled "in" Moses. This serves to show Moses as a true leader, for the divine wrath must also burn within him.
Moses, enticed by the Burning Bush, is lured into a conversation with God. As the conversation unfolds, it becomes clear that God has selected Moses to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt.
Moses' response is to plead with God to pick someone else. Like the child in class who the teacher calls on for the correct answer and the child shies away, asking, "Why do you call on me, can't you just call on another student?"
But the teacher has selected that student, and there's no way to get out of it. And although the two may struggle with each other, the bond can be stronger than they ever imagined. They may argue with each other, but the relationship is more powerful than any one interaction.
The role that Moses plays in the history of the Jewish people is obviously an unusual one. The prayer called "Yigdal" refers to Moses as Lo kam bi Yisrael ki Moshe od navi — "that there has never risen another prophet like Moses."
No other person was able to stand and beg for mercy for his people while simultaneously reprimanding that people for its poorly chosen path.
"Moses," as Yohanan Muffs writes in his book Love and Joy, "stands in the breach between God and the Jewish people."
Feeling Their Pain
According to Rabbi Simcha Bunam, that's what makes Moses a great leader.
His stature as a guide comes from the fact that he has internalized the message of God and approached the people, bringing with him God's message — not out of fear of the consequences that God might impose upon him for disobeying, but because he understands and empathizes with God.
Through the intense working relationship that Moses has with God, he begins to feel God's pain. We can all recall moments in our lives in which those who are close to us get hurt and we feel their pain. As parents, we try hard not to let our children make mistakes because we know how much it can hurt and because we feel their pain.
When we are close to people, we run the risk of feeling exactly what they feel. When someone we loves experiences great joy, we are happy not for them but also with them. When someone we love is in pain, we feel it, too.
As rabbis, we tend to feel the pain of our people. That is one of the great difficulties in being a rabbi — or a doctor or nurse or being in any other profession in which you are involved in the daily emotions of people to whom you minister.
Allowing for Closeness
Rabbi Bunam would have us believe that is a positive quality. What makes Moses a great leader is the fact that he's so closely connected to God. And what will make us good at what we do is how close we allow ourselves to become. There are most certainly liabilities with that approach, but the advantages outweigh them.
The bonds between us and God — like all relationships — require commitment.
As the year draws to a close, I pray that we choose to feel those relationships and to feel for the people in our lives, even if we're angry or we're distant from them right now. We need to work on getting those relationships kindled "in" us.
For the advantages are well worth the effort.
Rabbi Jay M. Stein is the senior rabbi of Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley.