The greatest leader ever known to the Jewish people, Moshe, led an incredibly fascinating and complicated life. The Torah is replete with compelling anecdotes from his personal life, his interaction with his constituents, and of course his myriad of interactions with the Almighty. Each of these stories is purposefully related in order to paint a picture of the Torah’s idea of an effective leader. Moshe was not a perfect person by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, sprinkled throughout the Torah are numerous stories in which Moshe is accused, either by the Torah itself, or by the Talmud in its interpretation of the events, of wrongdoing. It’s interesting to note that the Tlamud’s list of the handful of people in history who never committed a sin notably does not include any significant role-players in Jewish history. Living a life sin-free is not a feasible goal for anyone, and especially not for a leader, and the Jewish tradition does not, in fact, encourage such a goal. A leader will fail, and someone who fears failure is indeed not suited for leadership.
The dawn of Moshe’s life provides a fascinating insight into the dynamics of an effective leader, and some necessary components of any life well lived. Moshe is born and promptly deposited into the Nile, clearly the Torah’s expression of an “incubator” to prepare the baby for a future so critical to the Jews’ history. While in this incubator, there are two personalities whom the Torah introduces into his life, and both play a vital role in Moshe’s early development.
Miriam, Moshe’s older sister plays the role of a lookout on the banks of the river. She is concerned for the well being of her brother, and knows his significance to the Jewish future (the Torah makes it clear that Miriam was a prophetess and understood Moshe’s role). Not once does the Torah record Miriam talking to Moshe. Her role was that of a coach, of a silent supporter.
Social beings that we are, humans are programmed to need constant support and motivation in order to progress in life and keep growing. Often, the most potent support can come from someone who truly understands what we are capable of, and silently, expectantly waits for us to perform. Nary does this person utter a word- that would destroy the aura of his support. We know exactly what this person is thinking; he does not need to communicate anything other with his eyes. This person’s unspoken expectation of us speaks loudly and more powerfully than any words can convey. The unshattered bubble of hope is a silent motivator, and just this person’s presence and patient smile spur us to fulfill our potential.
Consider the example of a supportive wife waiting for her husband to do what is expected of him. Her silent support and unbreakable expectation can accomplish far more sometimes than bringing any given issue to the forefront. The moment she confronts her husband as to why he did or did not do something she expected of him, it becomes an issue of contention between them. The longer she can hold out in the background with her metaphorical arms crossed and smug smile on her face, showing her husband that she knows he can and will do this, the more palpable he will feel her support.
Miriam is introduced into Moshe’s life as that silent, stalwart supporter. Her role is to stand by, watch out for him, and not to say anything. In fact, the only time she opens her mouth about Moshe in the entire Torah, it lands her in trouble. Much later on in his life, in the midst of the Jews’ travels in the desert, Miriam verbalizes a critique of Moshe. The commentaries interpret Miriam’s critisism as coming from a role of supporting him. Nevertheless, her role was never that of speaking. It was purely to remain steadfast in her silent, almost annoying, support of her brother, to propel him to greatness.
The sin that led to Moshe’s inability to lead the nation into Israel was the famous episode in which he hit the rock. Amazingly, this happened immediately following Miriam’s death. Miriam’s persistent, silent belief in Moshe’s greatness was no longer, and the effect of its absence was catastrophic.
The second player on the scene while Moshe was developing in the Nile was Basya, the daughter of Paaroh. She was the motherly figure in Moshe’s early life, representing love, nurturing, and validation. This role is the opposite of the Miriam role, but it is of equal importance. Miriam’s silent, lofty aspirations for him can only be effective if his need of validation and love is met. Whereas Miriam is far away on the banks of the river, silently making her presence known, Basya dramatically reaches out to cradle Moshe where he is located at that time. This cheerleader approach complements the coaching of his sister Miriam. Loving someone for who he is now, amid all of his failures, is an extremely integral part of his development as well and cannot be overlooked.
These two roles in every person’s life, his silent coach representing where he can and should be, and his verbal cheerleader encouraging him where he is in the present, are so vital. Every person can probably identify who these people are in his or her own life, and for whom he or she plays play these roles as well. With a robust support system, a Jew is capable of reaching incredible heights.