Following this setback Hashem commanded Moshe to deliver to Pharaoh that he must free the Jewish people. Aware of his own shortcomings, Moshe claimed that he was not capable of successfully speaking to Pharaoh. Employing the argument of kal vachomer Moshe argued that if he was unable to inspire Bnei Yisrael he would certainly be unable to convince Pharaoh. Moshe further argued that his speech impediment would undermine any chance he had at success. Hashem rejected Moshe’s argument and ordered him to speak with both Bnei Yisrael and Pharaoh. Regarding his speech impediment Hashem informed him that his brother Aharon would serve as his spokesman.
The commentators have offered many explanations regarding Moshe’s concerns. The common denominator between them is that Moshe looked inward and attributed the cause of the setbacks to himself. He further reasoned that if he were not able to reach Bnei Yisrael he certainly would not be able to sway Pharaoh. In response to his concerns Hashem taught Moshe some fundamental leadership lessons. The first lesson was that a leader must adapt. If his initial approach doesn’t work then he must pursue an alternate. Even an approach that worked at one time might not work again. The Meshech Chochma points out that Moshe’s original speech to Bnei Yisrael in this parsha focused on the distant future. Due to their wretched condition Bnei Yisrael couldn’t even imagine such a future let alone be inspired by it. Moshe learned that to inspire them to seek their freedom he had to limit his argument to the here and now. His new rhetoric focused on the ending of the bondage.
A second lesson Hashem taught Moshe was that his kal vachomer was flawed. His failure to inspire Bnei Yisrael did not necessarily have any bearing on his discussions with Pharaoh. The fact that Moshe thought it did demonstrated that he thought one approach was appropriate for all occasions. Hashem taught him that this was not the case. The message that would ultimately inspire Bnei Yisrael was very different from what would convince Pharaoh. Bnei Yisrael needed to hear a message of hope. Pharaoh needed to hear a message of power.
Moshe, the greatest leader and teacher we ever had, internalized these lessons. Throughout his tenure he constantly searched for the right words and message that would inspire Bnei Yisrael during their developing stages. He likewise understood that one size does not fit all. Most importantly when things did not work out perfectly Moshe accepted responsibility and looked inward to improve the situation. Leaders must follow Moshe’s example. Custer failed to do so and ended up at the Little Big Horn instead of his own Promised Land.
Rabbi Dr. David Hertzberg is the principal of the Yeshivah of Flatbush Middle Division. Comments can be emailed to him at email@example.com.