Will Our Children Remember Us As Leaders?

Will we stand silently by or or raise our voices?

Rabbi Aryeh Kaltmann

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When Moses returned to Egypt after his long exile, of course, the paparazzi were there to document his triumphant homecoming. Flash bulbs popped and questions from the press abounded. And of course, the 70 Jewish Elders, self-appointed as their people’s statesmen, crowded around, smiling at the cameras as they clapped Moses on the shoulder.
Then Moses was asked, “Are you going to see Pharaoh? Is it true you will be demanding, ‘Let my people go’?” He answered resolutely that, yes, he was determined to finally end generations of slavery.
At this, the fawning Elders shrank back, shielding their faces from the cameras as they left Moses alone to proceed to Pharaoh.

...'crucible challenges' –moments that can inspire people who may not think of themselves as leaders to summon the vision and gumption to lead.
Okay, maybe it wasn’t exactly like that, but here is what the Midrash tells us: As soon as they reached the courtyard, a dreadful sight presented itself to them––heaps upon heaps of corpses of the murdered Jews. Some had been trampled upon the cement, others had their hands and feet cut off. Pharaoh had dealt mercilessly with their unfortunate brothers.

The frightened Elders declared, “We would rather continue to be enslaved than accompany you to Pharaoh!” One by one they absconded.
The Elders were leaders in title only. Not one was willing to confront Pharaoh to seek freedom, and Moses and his brother Aaron were left to advocate for their people alone.
The renowned scholar and author on leadership Warren Bennis referred to crossroads such as this as “crucible challenges”––moments that can inspire people who may not think of themselves as leaders to summon the vision and gumption to lead.
Modern-day Jewish hero and leader Natan Sharansky, in his Washington Post op-ed last week, called upon us to exert leadership at a crucible time for anyone who cares about Israel’s security and welfare. This is how he began his article:
These days, like many Israelis and American Jews, I find myself in a precarious and painful situation. Those of us who believe that the nuclear agreement just signed between world powers and Iran is dangerously misguided are now compelled to criticize Israel’s best friend and ally, the government of the United States. In standing up for what we think is right, for both our people and the world, we find ourselves at odds with the power best able to protect us and promote stability. And instead of joining the hopeful chorus of those who believe peace is on the horizon, we must risk giving the impression that we somehow prefer war.
Sharansky then went on to remind us of a crucible period 40 years ago when political leaders like Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, Rep. Charles Vanik, and Sen. Jacob Javits advocated on behalf of freedom for Soviet Jews and won. Our strenuous support of their governmental efforts made a historic difference we continue to enjoy.
Today we have another opportunity to advocate. Will we watch silently as the debate over approval of the Iran deal plays out in Congress, or will we take our cue from the grave concerns emanating from Israel, where virtually every faction is unified in opposition to the agreement?
So what can we do? How do we act as leaders when we are not in leadership positions? One way is to contact our representatives in Washington, write our own op-eds and letters to the editor, and take other steps to help steer our government away from this precarious agreement with one of Israel’s most treacherous foes.
Another way is to heed our Jewish teachings about the performance of mitzvot and their power to strengthen our Jewish world and the community at large. At crucible moments like this, we must be mindful of what our tradition teaches us about the miracle of our existence. We are one sheep surrounded by 70 ravenous wolves, it says, and yet our shepherd has protected us and enabled us to endure.   ‏‎‏‏‏‏‎‏‏‏‏‎‏‎‎‎‏‎‎‎‎‎‏‏‏‎‏‏‎‏‏‏‎‏‏‏‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‏‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‏‎‏‎‏‎‏‏‎‏‏‎‎‎‏‎‎
Our shepherd is watching as we make these vital decisions about mitzvot and action. And so are our children.
Rabbi Aryeh Kaltmann is the Chabad emissary in Columbus, Ohio.