Latest update: March 12th, 2015
The leaders of each generation are the Moshe of their time, responsible to teach the people and continue the process of mattan Torah until the arrival of Mashiach. This is what Rabbi Elazar said: Moshe descend from your exalted leadership role. After all, you never sought leadership, you never sacrificed for it, it was granted to you only for the sake of bnei Yisrael. Until the golden calf, Moshe was amazingly successful. When Moshe heard about the golden calf, his strength was sapped. However, he heard the other part of the message, that he had the chance to regain his leadership by standing up and sacrificing himself on behalf of the people, emulating the patriarchs. Moshe proved that he was ready for his new role by praying on their behalf 40 days and 40 nights. By grabbing on to the garment of Hashem, so to speak, and refusing to release it until the people were forgiven (as Rabbi Abahu says, Brachos 32a). This was his initial test. Moshe, if you are willing to give up easily, then you are no leader. You must be like Avraham, who was willing to take up the cause of Sedom. Hashem told Moshe: lech reid, relinquish your original leadership role for which you did not have to struggle and accept one fraught with difficulties.
Moshe knew that in his new role he would never be included as a fourth patriarch, or called the father of the nation. He said if a chair of three legs – Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov – cannot stand, then how could a chair with one leg, Moshe alone, stand. He said that he is interested only in saving this Jewish nation.
We now understand the relevance of the story of the friend of the king. It is easy to be the friend of the king if one is in constant agreement with the king. However, sometimes true friendship demands a willingness to oppose the king when necessary, even when it entails personal sacrifice. The king punished his son in order to test his friend to see if he had the strength of character to oppose him. Moshe answered, I am ready and willing to give up my own personal comfort and place in history, I am willing to sacrifice myself and my potential future greatness in order to save the Jewish nation.
After this act of sacrifice, Moshe attained a status that was greater than the patriarchs. Only after Moshe displayed his self-sacrifice did his face light up (koran or panav, Shemos 34:29), after the third time that Moshe descended from Mount Sinai after the second mattan Torah. Moshe became the greatest of the prophets, adon ha’neviim, when he emulated the patriarchs. Chazal say that Hashem did not retract the positive offer of making Moshe into a great nation. The offer was fulfilled as all of knesses Yisrael became the children of Moshe. He became Moshe Rabbeinu. Marriage, divorce, contracts are all formulated according to das Moshe v’Yisrael. Moshe became identified with the entire Torah, because he sacrificed himself on behalf of the people. This was the way of Avraham.
After Moshe showed his willingness to pray and sacrifice on their behalf, he became the fourth leg of the chair, the fourth father of the nation. Even though we have a principle that there are only three patriarchs, Moshe was now in their class. After all, a father will sacrifice himself on behalf of his children.
The Jewish leader cannot inherit his position of leadership. He must build it. There were two Moshes. The first ended with the episode of the golden calf. He was replaced by the new Moshe, a compatriot of Avraham.
About the Author: Rabbi Joshua Rapps attended the Rav's shiur at RIETS from 1977 through 1981 and is a musmach of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan. He and his wife Tzipporah live in Edison, N.J. Rabbi Rapps can be contacted at email@example.com.
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