This week’s parsha is that of Be’Shalach (‘when he let go’) and is the 16th parsha of the Torah. The parsha begins with the Israelites fleeing from Pharaoh, the story of the Red Sea splitting, the story of Moses and the rock and ends with the battle of Joshua and the Amalekites.
Also in this parsha I have found the source of our (Jews) tendency to complain about absolutely everything! In this parsha we complain about: leaving slavery, crossing the Red Sea, a lack of water, a lack of food and the fact that they had to eat manna (some ‘fine, flake-like’ food) for 40 years. So this is the textual basis for our compulsive need to complain! Turns out we have been doing it for at least 2000 years!
Now we all know (or should know) the first few stories in this parsha, but the part that I wish to focus on is the battle towards the end. The story goes as follows; after crossing the Red Sea and the Israelites complaining bitterly about a lack of food and water “Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim” (Exodus 17:8). Moses then instructed Joshua to pick his best men to go and confront the Amalekites and that Moses would “stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my [Moses’] hand” (Exodus 17:9). Now it is said that Moses ascended the hill accompanied by both Aaron and Hur and a good thing that they went with him! Throughout the battle whenever Moses would hold up his staff the Israelites would start winning the battle, however, whenever he lowered it the Amalekites would start to prevail. However, during the battle Moses’ arm got tired (presuming he had been holding up his staff in the air for quite some time now), so Aaron and Hur “supported his hands, one from this [side], and one from that [side]; so he was with his hands in faith until sunset” (Exodus 17:12); lucky Israelites huh.
Now, there are 2 main schools of thought (according to ex-Chief Rabbi Jonathon Sacks) on the significance of Moses’ staff during this battle. The first is that whenever Moses was raising his staff God was intervening in the battle, but Sacks prefers (and apparently the Mishnah too) that the raising of Moses’ staff was only meant to rally the Israelites behind their leader, thus moving them to victory. The Mishnah (which usually wouldn’t comment on such things as it is a book of law) states “the text implies that whenever the Israelites looked up and dedicated their hearts to their father in heaven, they prevailed, but otherwise they fell” (Mishnah Rosh HaShanah 3:8). The Mishnah is basically saying that all the Israelites needed to do was to look up at the staff and remember that God and Moses were on their side and they gained the confidence and courage to defeat the Amalekites!
Rabbi Sacks says it best (so I dare not paraphrase his words) when he states: “A fundamental principle of leadership is being taught here. A leader must empower the team. He cannot do the work for them. They must do it for themselves. But he must, at the same time, give them the absolute confidence that they can do it and succeed. He is responsible for their mood and morale.”
This is the lesson that I wish us to take from this week’s parsha: that leadership is about empowering others! If we think about it in the movement’s context, it is not the job for the Movement Workers (or Roshim for that matter) to be the ones to do everything in the movement. It is their role to inspire others to take responsibility for the movement and play and active role in it. It is not for the Movement Workers (or Roshim) to metaphorically ‘win the war’, but it is their responsibility to motivate everyone around them! This to me is so fundamental to the idea of leadership (and apparently to Rabbi Sacks as well).
I wish to end this week’s parshat hashvuah with a few paragraphs from the ex-Chief Rabbi himself as this is where my inspiration for this parsha came from (I hope you enjoy it and see it as an inspiration as much as I did):
“No political, social or moral achievement is without formidable obstacles. There are vested interests to be confronted, attitudes to be changed, resistances to be overcome. The problems are immediate, the ultimate goal often frustratingly far away. Every collective undertaking is like leading a nation across the wilderness towards a destination that is always more distant than it seems when you look at the map.
Look down at the difficulties and you can give way to despair. The only way to sustain energies, individual or collective, is to turn our gaze up toward the far horizon of hope. The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once said that his aim in philosophy was “to show the fly the way out of the fly-bottle”. The fly is trapped in the bottle. It searches for a way out. Repeatedly it bangs its head against the glass until at last, exhausted, it dies. Yet the bottle has been open all the time. The one thing the fly forgets to do is to look up. So, sometimes, do we.
It is the task of a leader to empower, but it is also his or her task to inspire. That is what Moses did when, at the top of a hill, in full sight of the people, he raised his hands and his staff to heaven. When they saw this, the people knew they could prevail. “Not by might nor by power, but by My spirit,” said the prophet (Zechariah 4:6). Jewish history is a sustained set of variations on this theme. A small people that, in the face of difficulty, continues to look up will win great victories and achieve great things.” (http://www.aish.com/tp/i/sacks/238775511.html)