The newly formed Jewish nation was literally stuck between a rock and a hard (to navigate) place. The sea loomed before them while the Egyptian army was approaching from behind. They cried out in despair. Moshe too turned to HaShem to pray for salvation.
HaShem, however, rebukes Moshe by saying:
וַיֹּ֤אמֶר ה' אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה מַה־תִּצְעַ֖ק אֵלָ֑י דַּבֵּ֥ר אֶל־בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל וְיִסָּֽעוּ
Moshe, why are you crying out to Me? Speak to Bnei Yisrael and they should proceed..
Rashi quotes the Mechilta:
מה תצעק אלי. לִמְּדָנוּ שֶׁהָיָה מֹשֶׁה עוֹמֵד וּמִתְפַּלֵּל, אָמַר לוֹ הַקָּבָּ"ה, לֹא עֵת עַתָּה לְהַאֲרִיךְ בִּתְפִלָּה, שֶׁיִּשְׂרָאֵל נְתוּנִין בְּצָרָה
(There is no mention that he prayed to God concerning this),Why are you crying out to me? this teaches us that Moshe stood in prayer. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, “It is no time now to pray at length, when the Jewish people are placed in trouble”.
HaShem is telling Moshe that the only speaking that he should be doing is encouraging the people.
Much deeper, however, is the lesson for Moshe and all future leaders-when your people are vulnerable and in need of comfort, don’t turn your back to pray to Me. Do an “about face” and tend to them!
A true leader understands that in a time of crisis, the members of their flock are looking for guidance, reassurance and comfort. Such support is more crucial even than prayer.
I was privileged to spend some years learning in Yeshivas Beth Moshe in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The yeshiva enjoys a well deserved reputation of instilling a love of Torah and Yiddishkeit in its students.
There is an atmosphere of warmth and concern that emanates from the administration and trickles down through the dedicated rebbeim to the student body, both present and past.
Shortly after my entering the yeshiva, it was discovered that the schedule of vaccinations that I had received in my youth was not compliant with the Health department of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In order for me to remain enrolled, I would have to receive ALL of the missing vaccines at the local health department.
After informing me of this, the Rosh Hayeshiva, Rav Chaim Bressler, told me that if I preferred, I could return to Baltimore and forgo the many jabs that I would need to comply. I told Rav Chaim that I would “bite the bullet” and do what was needed to remain in the yeshiva.
Rav Bressler replied, “I thought that you would say that so I already arranged an appointment for you this morning. It shouldn’t take more than hour”. I asked him for the address so that I could call a taxi or take the bus. His answer, “don’t worry, I will take you. Meet me out front at 10:45”.
Rav Chaim drove me to the Department of Health office. I thanked him and told him that I would return to the yeshiva by taxi after the appointment. Rav Bressler wouldn’t hear of it. He parked the car and accompanied me into the clinic. While waiting to be called, we sat and spoke for about half an hour. I went in, reviewed the information, and received all (yes, ALL) of the missing shots. I figured that by this time, Rav Chaim, a very busy man at the start of the semester, would have returned to the yeshiva and I would find my own way back.
To my great surprise, Rav Chaim was still sitting in the waiting room, sefer in hand. He greeted me with his trademark smile and asked me how I was feeling after the “assault”. We walked together to his car and returned to the yeshiva.
I thanked him again remarking that he really didn’t need to spend so much of his precious time to drive and wait for me.
Rav Chaim said “I thought about how you must have felt, being far from home, in a new yeshiva and now facing a government clerk who will administer a bunch of shots. Yes, there is much to do in the yeshiva but at this time I felt that you needed someone to be there for and with you. And, as a bonus, we got to know each other better while waiting”.
Although this story took place almost 4 decades back, the devotion and concern of Rav Chaim Bressler for one of his students warms me until this very day. While I left the yeshiva many years ago and live 6000 miles away from Scranton, every time that I speak to Rav Chaim by phone or have the privilege to see him, I am still that teenager, sitting anxiously with his Rosh Yeshiva, receiving assurance while waiting his turn for the shots.
Sometimes it’s the “little things” that make the biggest impact.
Rav Chaim Bressler, despite his many responsibilities and a demanding schedule, understood that in a time of need, a true leader places his student’s needs above and beyond anything else.
Thank you, Rav Chaim for that everlasting hour of your time.