And afterwards Moses and Aaron came, and said unto Pharaoh: ‘Thus says Hashem, the G-d of Israel: Let My people go, that they may hold a feast unto Me in the wilderness.’ And the king of Egypt said to them, ‘Why, Moses and Aaron, do you disturb the nation from its work? Go to your burdens.'” (From this week’s Torah portion, Shmot, Exodus 5: 1 and 4)
Pharaoh employs an unusual choice of words when he attempts to discourage Moses and Aaron from bothering him any further. “Stop ‘disturbing’ the ‘happy’ Jews”, he tells them. “Go back to your private lives.”
Pharaoh uses the carrot and stick tactic and throws in a temptation for good measure.
The stick: I am Pharaoh, the mighty king of Egypt. With just the nod of my head I can kill you. You have, after all, entered the lion’s den.
The carrot: I am willing to differentiate between your fate and the fate of the rest of the Jews if you will just forget about the responsibility that you have taken upon yourselves when you decided to lead the Nation. “Go to your burdens” – in other words, go back to being private people who are focused on their personal lives.
The temptation: You have simply misunderstood reality. There is really nothing that you can do. This is the way of the world, and the Jews are actually happy to be living like this. You are disturbing them for no good reason. Let us just agree that there was a misunderstanding between us, and we will part as friends.
During the Holocaust, we experienced Jewish leaders who did not know how to overcome the type of temptation faced by the Jewish leadership in the Egyptian Holocaust. We can all learn what true leadership is from the Jewish midwives in this week’s Torah portion, the Jewish police of Egypt and of course, the ultimate Jewish leader, Moses.
When a Jewish leader leads Israel with the leadership mode of Moses and Aaron, always remembering who he represents – a brilliant future awaits him and his nation.
But when a leader prefers to “go to his burdens,” salvation and relief emerge for the Jews from elsewhere – and his leadership ends in disgrace.