Thursday, October 23, 2014

Noach and Moshe: Different Leadership Models

The Setting and the Rising Sun
"Moshe is better liked than Noach. Noach was first called 'a righteous man' and then 'a man of the earth,' while Moshe was first called 'an Egyptian' and later 'a man of G-d'." [Bereishit Rabba 36:3]. As the Meshech Chochma explains in the following abridged quote, "There are two ways to serve G-d. One is to be totally dedicated to Him and to remain isolated, and the second is to be involved in public affairs and for the person to minimize himself for the good of the community. From our point of view, one who isolates himself rises to greater and greater heights, while the public servant falls down in his spiritual level. But experience shows that the opposite is true. Noach, who kept aside and did not admonish the people of his generation, descended from the status of righteousness to being a man of the earth, while Moshe was at first called an Egyptian for being willing to forfeit his life in killing the Egyptian. But in the end he dedicated his life to leading Yisrael, and he was called a man of G-d when he reached an ultimate level of perfection."
Noach's life was a descent, going lower and lower. Moshe, on the other hand, was privileged to rise up to the level of "a man of G-d." Why did Noach sink down while Moshe rose and began to shine? Some people concentrate all their efforts on serving G-d, and they are constantly involved only in their own spiritual advance. Others are involved in public affairs and minimize themselves for the good of the community. As opposed to our intuitive feeling, Moshe the "public" person rose in spiritual level while Noach, the "isolated individual," sank into the depths. Thus, it seems that being involved in public matters brings a person to a higher status. We can suggest that this stems from the fact that public service lets a person achieve a potential that an isolated person would not be able to bring out.
However, can we really believe that Noach, a righteous man, was completely apathetic to the fate of his generation? According to the Midrash, didn't he warn the people of the impending deluge? Evidently he did not put their welfare above the importance of his own spiritual level. It is also possible that he feared being mocked and becoming unpopular. Moshe, on the other hand, acts without any personal considerations and without any concerns for his status among the people. He is even willing to leave his leadership position when he begins to feel that he no longer has the proper influence on the people. Rabbi Shach is quoted as saying the following: It is said that a Jew loves to eat fish on Friday night (sweet "gefilte fish" for the Ashkenazim and spicy for the Sephardim). But does the Jew really love the fish? No, he loves himself...
The Test of Sacrificing Popularity
In the end, both Noach and Moshe were involved in public affairs, and we thus have a way of comparing them. Noach was chosen to save the entire world, while Moshe was chosen to take Yisrael out of Egypt, to receive the Torah, and to bring the people into Eretz Yisrael. According to the Meshech Chochma, the criterion for leadership is not how popular a man is among the people. Rather, the opposite is true. How ready is the leader to "sacrifice" and give up his personal popularity in the face of the challenges that face him? Noach failed in that he feared the people of his generation, who were sinners and robbers, and he was not ready to put his status and his fate in danger. In this way he was transformed from a perfectly righteous leader into a man of the earth with no influence. Moshe, on the other hand, was willing to pay for his actions with a loss of popularity and "rating," in his effort to influence the others on his Divine mission. He therefore succeeded, and after starting out as an Egyptian he became a man of G-d at the very highest level, a man who had the greatest possible influence on the nation of Yisrael.
In our generation, when (some) leaders are chosen democratically within their parties, and when candidates are elected to the Knesset and in municipal elections – they are all facing a personal and leadership challenge that is not at all simple. This is the test proposed by the Meshech Chochma. Should they prefer a popular approach, based on public relations and surveys, which promises to give them ratings and votes, or should they give preference to true values and ideologies which they espouse in order to gather the trust of the voters, while ignoring electoral considerations? Which is the better way to gather the votes of the people?
If Moshe would run for office today he might well lose! He would not be ready to give the people all that they want. Noach might have had a better chance of succeeding!

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