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Moshe shows great leadership qualities in this week’s parsha. When his father-in-law Yitro criticizes him for the manner in which he conducts the judicial system of the people of Israel – Moshe was basically a one-man judge and jury and counselor – Moshe responds positively to the unasked for advice that Yitro volunteered. It is not easy for someone to accept criticism and advice from anyone else, especially not from a father-in-law. But the mark of greatness in leadership is exactly that trait – the ability to listen to others, to admit mistakes and to adopt new policies and actions to help the situation. Throughout the career of Moshe we find this great trait of his evident. His brother Aharon will contradict a halachic ruling of Moshe regarding eating from the sacrifice while he was yet an onan on the day of the tragic death of Aharon’s two sons. Moshe will immediately admit his error and agree with Aharon’s interpretation. Moshe will later accommodate himself to the wishes of the tribes of Gad and Reuven and allow them land east of the Jordan River even though it is clear to all from the reading of that parsha that Moshe originally disagreed vehemently with their request and decision. And, as in the case of the request of the daughters of Tzlafchad to receive the inheritance of their father, when Moshe does not have an immediate answer to the question posed before him, he nevertheless admits this openly and candidly and states that he has to consult with God, so to speak, before giving a definitive answer.


Moshe’s greatness of spirit and wise ability to admit mistake stems from his superior trait of modesty. The Torah describes Moshe as being the most humble of all human beings. It is always our ego, hubris and arrogance that prevent us from climbing down the tree of bad ideas or wrong formulations. Since if one believes that “I am always right” it is well nigh impossible for anyone to grant advice, let alone criticism, to a person with such an attitude. Rabbi Yisrael Lipkin of Salant, the great sage of nineteenth-century Lithuania and the founder of the Mussar movement, always prayed that he should have the ability and patience to hear what his critics have to say and to incorporate their ideas and thoughts in his decision making process. Sycophants who curry favor with the leader by encouraging his ego and downplaying other opinions that disagree with the leader’s policies always surround people in power. The great men of Israel always strove to rise above this situation and to accept advice and truth from whatever source it came. The give and take of halachic discussion, the differences in approaches to solve problems that beset the Jewish community in all times and places, are the hallmarks of traditional Jewish history. Moshe’s example remains the paradigm for Jewish leaders throughout the ages. It is clear that this is why the Torah places emphasis on this incident between Yitro and Moshe, not only for its story content, but also mainly for its transcendent message of the requirement of true leadership of Israel.  


Shabat shalom.

Rabbi Berel Wein

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