Sunday, January 16, 2011

Conversations on Shemot: The Tragedy of Leadership

The birth of Moshe, the greatest prophet in Judaism, is in many ways an anti-myth. While the stories surrounding the births of Romulus and Oedipus relate to them being biological children of royalty or gods who survive against the odds and are brought up by humble adopted parents before finding out their true identity, Moshe is the biological child of slaves who is brought up by royalty.

As Jonathan Sacks suggests, it seems that it's not power that matters in the Biblical world, but the fight for justice and freedom. In addition, a child of slaves can be greater than a prince.

We then looked at the early life of Moshe, how he fights for justice on three different occasions. However, we also discussed whether there may be a tragic side to this fight for justice. One Midrash – Petirat Moshe – describes an argument between God and Moshe where the latter's killing of the Egyptian taskmaster counts against him in his request to live forever and enter the Promised Land.

The Midrash seems to suggest that there are certain actions which may be necessary, even essential, but that have negative consequences for the individual involved. Moshe is praised for killing the Egyptian and protecting the weak, but that doesn’t mean he leaves the event unaffected.

What might this idea mean for us – both in our personal lives and in the difficult position we find ourselves in within Israel?

Click here for the souce sheet and the audio recording (right click and save target to download)

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