“God heard their moaning, and God remembers His covenant with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.” (Sh’mot 2:24)
The second book of the Torah is called Sh’mot, which means names. (Exodus, which is how the book is usually referred to in English, is actually an abbreviation of the Greek, Exodus Aegyptous.) And, in fact, Sh’mot includes many names. It begins by listing the names of the Children of Israel. It continues by naming Shifrah and Puah, the midwives who defy Pharoah and save the Jewish people. But then something peculiar happens. After setting the stage with all these names, the Torah begins a new storyline with, “A certain man of the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman.” (Sh’mot 2:1) No names are given and only later in the chapter do we learn that these are Moses’ parents.
Nobody would have predicted that Moses would grow up from these anonymous and humble beginnings to become the archtypic Jewish leader. And that is precisely the Torah’s message.
We all worry about the future of the Jewish people and who will lead the American Jewish community forward. Executive succession is on the agenda of every Jewish institution, and next-generation leadership-development programs are “hot.” More often than not, though, we imagine leaders and leadership through a narrowly-defined profile: what it has looked like in the past. Moses’ story is a reminder that there is no single template for the development of leaders; they come from all sorts of backgrounds and all sorts of history. Sometimes, the most successful come from the most unlikely places. If you’re sure you know where your next leaders are coming from, you’re probably mistaken.
Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom,
Dr. David Ackerman is the director of JCC Association’s Mandel Center for Jewish Education.