ISSUES OF FAITH: Moses and enlightened leadership

AS WE CONTINUE to follow the story of the Israelites’ journey after leaving Egypt, we witness Moses’ amazing leadership. He stood strong against the grumblings of the people who, when faced with a lack of food or water, asked why Moses had taken them away from the “comforts” of Egyptian slavery. Seriously?

In dealing with the many tasks of leading thousands of sometimes unruly Israelites, including settling family and tribal disputes, Moses complains to God about having to struggle with these ungrateful people.

Enter Yitro, Moses’ father-in-law, who pointed out that a single leader cannot do everything and be effective. He advised Moses to delegate authority amongst other trustworthy members of the community so he could direct his energies to the most pressing problems. Showing leadership wisdom, Moses took the advice and allowed others to take over where he could.

He wasn’t driven by ego and was able to step aside, letting others take over certain tasks. Moses had the humility to know he alone couldn’t control every situation, a sign of an enlightened leader.

When the world feels dangerous and chaotic, we are in need of good leaders, both religiously and politically. How can we find those who would best navigate us through difficult times with integrity and a firm moral compass?

We might consider choosing our leaders as we would our friends. Do we want to surround ourselves with people who think only of themselves, are full of anger and fear and cause us to distrust those different from us? Or do we want someone who reflects empathy, loving-kindness and sees God’s Holy Spark in everyone?

Those making a decision about any leader, secular or religious, would do well to use the Golden Rule, the unifying concept in every spiritual path, to measure someone’s personal values, ethics and morality. Do they reflect the values that our faith teaches us? Do they espouse taking care of the poor and desperate among us, the refugees, housing the homeless, feeding the hungry, taking care of those alone in the world?

The Ten Commandments can also give guidance to potential leaders, especially those rules that direct us in our everyday interactions with others.

Leaving out the ones related to God and religious practices, the last five should be a guide to an aspiring leader and be considered by those wishing to choose one. They command us to not murder, steal, be envious of others’ success, not cheat on one’s partner and to not lie.

Everyone should take a hard look at anyone they are considering to be a leader with these commandments in mind. If someone regularly lies, encourages dangerous retribution, cheats in their personal or professional life or is obsessed with others’ achievements and makes material wealth their “god,” they are exhibiting serious character flaws that reflect only a love of power at others’ expense.

We should look for our leaders to be what Rabbi Karyn Kedar calls “sustainers.” Do they nourish peoples souls, seeing the Divine Spark in everyone? Are they positive about all humanity? Would they be a person whose company we would want to keep? Do they reflect the life we wish to live? Rabbi Kedar encourages us to surround ourselves with people who see that our hearts are filled with love and grace. Do those who seek a leadership role fit these descriptions?

By choosing our leaders with these criteria in mind, we can envision them as true sustainers. “The people in your life mirror your world. If they are hollow, dull or cruel, so will you see your life. If they are loving, inspirational and supportive, you will reflect their beauty” (Kedar, God Whispers).

We must ensure that all those we choose to lead us reflect the best in humanity. During these contentious times, it is crucial that we choose wisely.

Kein yehi ratzon … may it be God’s will. Shalom.


Issues of Faith is a rotating column by religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. Suzanne DeBey is a lay leader of the Port Angeles Jewish community. Her email is

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