Lessons from Moses for our political class
As the weekend of Passover begins, we too need a figure to lead us from plague to liberation
This weekend the festival of Passover begins, when Jews commemorate Moses taking a beaten-down nation of slaves from the clenched fist of ancient Egypt, then world’s mightiest empire and bringing them to freedom.
Moses had a speech impediment, a clearly defined awareness of his own faults, and a total lack of personal ambition. That is to say: he’s not like our current Prime Minister. But he has plenty to teach Boris Johnson, and the rest of our political class.
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Like the importance of truth. Being authentic doesn’t necessarily win political points in the short term. But The Moses Model shows that it does in the long term it does. Trust can be built with the electorate (or Israelite post Exodus multitude) so that governing and governed partner each other for the good of the country. A leader tells the truth. Even when the numbers are bad, they tell it how it is.
Crossing the Jordan River, Moses assures the Israelites that the mightier, more populous nations on the other side would lose; but not through the Israelites, through the might of God. Not because of the Israelites’ virtue, but the other nations’ wickedness. Being truthful and frank must take precedence over spin. Credibility is only earned through being credible.
A Moses-inspired ministerial model of leadership would centre on humility. The ability to retrospectively say “I was wrong, and could be wrong again”. Coming into contact with God for the first time, Moses hides his face, knowing his place before the Divine. Tasked with leading the Israelites at that same meeting, he protests that he can’t do so — he’s “slow of speech”. It is decided that his brother Aaron will serve as his spokesman, with Moses placing the words in Aaron’s mouth. Moses is aware of his shortcomings; his absence of ego propels him to form that symbiotic partnership for the good of his nation. Understanding our limitations is crucial for setting expectations, and being clear to others about them preserves an honest dialogue about what we can do together.
The last ingredient in the Moses Ministerial Model is courage. Having fortitude in the face of uncertainty. This is what adherence to truth and humility bring: a confrontation with reality. Sometimes this exposure brings one at odds with opponents and superiors. Throughout Moses’s leadership, he does not back down from dispute for the good of what is right. He kills an Egyptian slave master who’s torturing an Israelite slave, and uses his pluck and political acumen to negotiate God out of punishing the Israelites. To take a leap which may bring short-term pain for the good of long-term wellbeing is a difficult move to make – personal, political or otherwise. It’s one which only the highest calibre of leaders take.
Mosaic leadership has a track record of carrying a nation from plague to liberation. Today’s leaders could learn a lesson or two from it.
Oh please. What claptrap. First Moses was a religious not political leader who was chosen by God rather than elected. He was also not perfect and was prevented from entering the Promised land largely for showing insufficient humility to God.
Humility and getting elected leader do not go together: If you were humble you would not try to get elected leader. Callaghan, Brown and May were appropriately humble but were not really elected. Heath, Wilson, Thatcher, Blair, Cameron, Boris; arrogant as hell.
As to honesty none of them are. What kind if dissembler could call a 1% rise even in an environment of 0.7% inflation, a Cut? Why would you complain that a Bill had no mention of Women when as a Barrister you know perfectly well that Bills are not gendered they speak of people specifically victims of sexual assault. Not only are the left fundamentally dishonest they are also violent and an awful lot of them are antiemetic too. The lesson endeth.
Boris Johnson as Moses? I am assuming this article is the famed Jewish sense of humour. No Charles Heston either, maybe played by Jerry Seinfeld. Rather than down the mountain with the Ten Commandments Boris would come out of number 10 with the list of the Ten Correctnesses, and not from God, but from Carrie Symonds and her squad of good thinkers. No, it just does not seem to work. But then, seeing the writer, Rabbis are possibly not what they used to be.
And as far as speaking the Truth? From Number 10? And from Boris? no, I just do not see that part either. But I do wish everyone a Happy Passover.
Did you miss this part “he’s not like our current Prime Minister.”
Thanks for a very thought-provoking article! Boris could learn a lot from it. For example:
2. Numbers 15:32-36 While the people of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation. They put him in custody, because it had not been made clear what should be done to him. And the LORD said to Moses, “The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” And all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, as the LORD commanded Moses.
Now THAT is how to enforce a lockdown!
The trouble with Boris is that he has fallen between two stools: he’s not a Moses, but neither is he a Good King Wenceslas.
It’s just a few years since you visited our synagogue in Newcastle in your then position as leading rabbi of the Reform movement. I don’t claim to remember your exact words, but you probably spoke then, as you write here, about truth, trust, humility and courage. That combination of qualities must provide the foundation for a moral compass that tells us when to adopt cold, narrow legality and when to challenge it on the basis of progressive Jewish values and ethics.
Israel’s rapid and successful vaccination programme is a matter of pride for all those who care about the state and its survival. But the Israeli government’s failure to roll out the vaccines to the occupied West Bank – except for settlers – is a matter of the deepest shame and anguish for those of us who believe that the Jewish state should uphold Jewish and humane values. Israel claims that the Palestinian Authority is responsible for immunizing its people. But as the occupying power – and in Gaza, as the blockading power – Israel has enormous power which it could wield for good, but refuses to do so.
Here, the Reform movement, whose rabbis you led until recently, has failed to challenge the Israeli government’s callous and arrogant treatment of Palestinians. I was relying on our Reform rabbis to show moral leadership, but instead they have chosen to side with Netanyahu. Several of us have written to them and to the lay leadership of UK Reform Judaism, but without success. I am addressing you on this public platform only because this is literally – and I mean literally – a matter of life and death. Please do whatever you can to urge our Reform rabbis to find their honesty, their courage and their consciences so that they can speak out, as difficult as it may be, and fulfill the lessons of Moses’ leadership qualities as you so eloquently describe them.
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