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Parashat Vaera

January 20, 2009

By Paul Hoffman

This week has been one of history-in-the-making as the first man of color was the people’s overwhelming favorite to step into the White House and assume the Presidency of the USA. As with every new administration, it is only normal for Americans to hope that a significant level of change for the better will ensue, and today is certainly no different. Currently our country is divided on two levels as we are not only at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, but our economy is in such dire straits that it has been likened to that of the Great Depression. I can’t imagine what pressure Barack Obama is experiencing. So far he has displayed intelligence and articulation and has done a masterful job in choosing a diverse and qualified cabinet. However, if I were he, I’d also be searching for a mentor, one who has experience in leading a nation in turmoil, unsure of itself, facing new and unprecedented challenges.

I would suggest of course, our greatest national leader Moshe Rabeinu, Moses Our Teacher. How coincidental is it that our President takes office right in between last week’s chapter, Exodus, and this weeks chapter Va’era, as Moses takes a rag tag group of slaves out of Egypt towards the promised land where they become a nation of faith and vision. As all leaders, Moses is not perfect and makes mistakes along the way but he has God’s unwavering confidence from the very beginning. So what is it about Moses that inspired him to be God’s leader extraordinaire and what could he teach our President?

In our portion this week God commands Moses: “speak to the Pharoah, the King of Egypt everything that I speak to you. Moses said before Hashem, “Behold, I have sealed lips, so how shall Pharoah heed me.” (Exodus 6:29-30). There is a beautiful midrash that tells us that in the palace of Pharoah there were interpreters who were fluent in the languages of all of the 70 nations. Hence Pharoah could converse with any dignitary that might visit. Moses said to God, how will it reflect upon You if I am Your emissary and upon arrival in Egypt as the representative of the Creator of the world, I cannot converse in even one language. I am unfit to speak in Your name.

God did not choose Moses because of his Obama-like charisma, nor his Harvard-like skills of diplomacy. Au contraire, Moses was slow of speech, a reluctant leader at best. So why did God choose him? Moses was honest; Moses was humble. These were the redeeming qualities that made him great as he endured 40 years of leadership.

This is what Moses could teach Barack: don’t forget who you are, don’t forget that you are one of the people. Be true to God, be true to yourself and you will not only be able to endure your role, but you will be a leader extraordinaire.


Paul Hoffman is a rabbinical student at AJR.