Leadership isn’t a position — it’s an attitude 

It has become a truism that the world is experiencing an unprecedented leadership crisis. The level of trust we have in our leaders — political, corporate and religious — has hit rock bottom, though that hasn’t stopped the digging. Three-quarters of Americans distrust their elected leaders, and 8 in 10 Israelis want their prime minister gone. Eighty-two percent of Americans are suspicious of business leaders, and religious leaders are distrusted by a historic number of people

Some of this may be an over-correction: we used to think that our leaders were infallible, and now we are all too aware of each of their imperfections. In the age of radical transparency, defects can’t be hidden and misdeeds become magnified. But even so, there’s no denying that our elected leaders have, to varying degrees, broken all norms of proper leadership. They refuse to take responsibility for their actions and policies and fail to fulfill their core duties as leaders. Many are shamefully selfish, pathologically narcissistic and overtly unconcerned with the general good. Broadly speaking, we are right to believe that they haven’t lived up to their part of the social contract. 

For Jews, Oct. 7 and its aftermath have made this painfully evident. It’s not controversial or surprising to say that Israelis rightfully feel abandoned by their leaders, and now they don’t trust them to make the right decisions in the most critical time of the country’s history. In the Diaspora too, many feel that communal, political and social leaders are failing to defend Jews and stand up for their rights.

Sadly, however, many of us are content with denouncing this crisis of leadership from a high perch of self-righteousness, buttressed with virtue signaling and vociferous indignation. This has become a sort of Jewish national sport if not its own literary genre. Nowadays there are Jewish organizations whose sole goal is to attack Jewish leadership for their failures; everybody is an expert in wagging fingers and assigning blame from the comfort of their keyboards. 

But as we approach Passover, we can learn a very different attitude from Moses: one of humility, growth and responsibility instead of sterile complaint and lamentation. 

We tend to think that Moses’ leadership begins with God’s directive at the burning bush to go tell Pharaoh to let His people go. In reality, his leadership journey starts before that, when the pampered boy raised to be a prince of Egypt suddenly discovers who he is. 

“When Moses had grown up, he went out to his brethren and saw their suffering…” (Exodus 2:11)

There’s a process of personal growth at the onset of his leadership career, one that leads him to accept and be proud of his own identity. The prince who must have looked down at Hebrew slaves from his luxurious perch above them now sees them as his brethren. He “went out,” meaning that there is an active break with the past, a daring abandonment of his comfort zone, that allows him to see the suffering of his kinfolk. This is a requirement of proper leadership, one wholly lacking amid the self-absorption and narcissism of contemporary leaders.

And then, when Moses sees injustice, he simply can’t stand idly by. 

“… He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsmen. He turned this way and that and, seeing no one about, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand” (2:11-12)

Try to picture the scene. Moses has just grown up; he has just discovered his true identity and now knows that these people are his brethren. Then he, a prince of Egypt, sees that an Egyptian is striking his newly discovered brother. And he’s perplexed. Perhaps he’s thinking, Somebody should intervene to stop this! But he “turns this way and that” and sees that there is no one around.

That, for Moses, is the moment of truth. He sees that nobody is taking leadership and stopping the abuse. He hesitates for a second, but then he takes charge. He doesn’t lament and complain, he doesn’t get indignant and stubbornly orate for the purpose of stirring up a crowd (or, in today’s terms, post an angry tweet). He takes leadership — and the risk it involves. 

This is what Israelis did on Oct. 7. When their leaders failed them by leaving massive holes in the civil response to Hamas’ attack, they didn’t complain or lament but took leadership themselves. Civilian drivers, unprompted, went south to rescue people at Nova. Twenty-two-year-old IDF officers, without receiving orders, got in their cars, picked up members of their units and went to fight. “Hightech-ists” created chamalim (war rooms) that identified the missing and the kidnapped. Retired nurses and doctors showed up at hospitals. A staggering half of the entire population of the country volunteered for different duties. 

They proved that leadership is not a position, but an attitude. 

This Passover, we need to take Moses’ example. Go through a process of growth that makes you see our fellow Jews as our brethren. This year, we must see each other with a love not uncritical but unbreakable. We have to see the suffering, be it in Kibbutz Be’eri and Kiryat Shmona or on a hate-infested American college campus, and not remain passive. We have to do rather than just denounce, act instead of just pontificate, risk more of ourselves and protect more of others.

Like Moses, we need to see this critical moment as our opportunity — our obligation — to exercise leadership in whatever way we can, because we can’t rely on others to do it for us.

And you don’t have to be perfect or exemplary to lead. The Torah goes to great pains to show how inadequate Moses is (or feels he is). You may think that a prophet who can’t speak is like a lifeguard who can’t swim. But Moses, who is full of self-doubt and has negative charisma, leads. It’s what you do that makes you a leader, not what you are. Moses grows, evolves and discovers hidden things in his heart and soul. He does things he never imagined he could do. 

“And God said to Moses, ‘Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh’ [I will be Who I Will Be]” (3:14).

 God’s most effective reassurance to Moses is telling him that He too is always becoming. 

If God, so to speak, evolves, so can you. 

Let’s use this crisis to step up to show our leaders how it’s done. Let’s take a lesson from Moses and vanquish our fears and our sense of inadequacy to achieve great things for our people. Let’s grow like him, and let’s see in every Jew a sibling that needs us. 

And if you think you are not up to the challenge, remember: Moses, the greatest Jewish leader of all time, started out, quite literally, a basket case. 

Chag kasher v’sameach!

Andrés Spokoiny is the president and CEO of the Jewish Funders Network.