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Shmini Atzeret 5777: Moses as a leadership model

We are at the end of the Torah cycle, we have only one short Parashah left called “Vezot Habrachah” that we will read tomorrow during the Simchat Torah service. As Jacob our father, Moses blesses in a beautiful way each one of the tribes of Israel before he dies. Last Parashah we read, Haazinu, was full of expressions of rebuke and warning. Now, we enjoy the last words of Moses when he says goodbye to the people he took from slavery to freedom and until the border of the Promised Land. How can understand the harsh words of Haazinu together with the beautiful and loving words of Vezot Habracha? What can we learn about the leadership of Moses? Rabbi Shmuel Avigdor Hacohen explained in this way: “Time has come for our great leader, Moses, to say goodbye to the people. At the beginning he said harsh words of rebuke, he reminds them their failures as a people for 40 years in the wilderness, he details their weaknesses and doesn’t ignore their stubbornness. He even reminds the terrible punishments that will happen to them if they leave the right path… However, at the very last moment, at the last chance to say goodbye, he doesn’t do it with anger or rage, but with a blessing. A real leader not only calms the masses, he speaks truth to them, even if the truth is hard. He shows mistakes, warns against corruption and gives advice. Together with this, the leader has to be able to nourish the people with love and understanding. Moses leaves the people with his blessing”. The moving interpretation of Rabbi Hacohen is appropriate for our current events. With the elections in the US very close and the next elections of local governments in the UK a few months away, it would be good to remind ourselves what is the essence of a good leader. A real leader, as we learnt, doesn’t try to calm down the people with an ideal picture of the future. He or she challenges the people to see a real picture of themselves, to reflect and be truthful. A leader asks the difficult questions, a people has to be challenged ethically and morally. A nation has to look to its past, to be aware of its mistakes and then to look forward, to a better future. I wish the American people the best for their elections and may they choose a worthy leader. I wish our leaders here in the UK (and in Israel) can learn from the wisdom of Rabbi Hacohen and the example of Moses. We are at the end of this long period of festivals, tomorrow will be its end with the celebrations of Simchat Torah. During Sukkot we were sheltered by the wings of the Shechinah, the Divine Presence, symbolized by the roof of the Sukkah that let us see the sky. Let’s remember not look for shelter in lying to ourselves and closing our eyes to reality. Let’s learn to be connected to reality, to continue the reflection we started with the month of Elul and may we be able to work actively and surely to help make a blessed future for all our society.

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