Shemos 32 details Moshe Rabbeinu’s response to the egel hazahav. Moshe’s perceived delay in returning from Har Sinai resulted in widespread angst amongst the people; he was Hashem’s emissary, the conduit of His word and revelation. Nervous and uncertain about their collective futures, the people confronted Aharon and demanded that he “make (them) a god who shall go before (them).” The encounter ultimately resulted in the formation of a golden calf and a proclaimed day of celebration, complete with sacrifices.
The dialogue that followed next is fascinating and instructive. Hashem sent Moshe down from the mountain, telling him that “his” people are corrupt, idolatrous and stiff-necked. He also told his faithful servant to “leave (Him) alone,” so that He could destroy the nation.
Clearly, Moshe had established himself as a genuine leader who cared deeply about the nation. After calling the people “Moshe’s,” Hashem left the door open for the leader to intervene on their behalf. Rashi tells us that the directive of “leave Me alone” preceded any action taken by Moshe. It was as if Hashem was inviting the Jewish leader to daven and alter the edict of destruction.
Though certainly distraught, Moshe did not flinch. He beseeched Hashem for mercy, using three powerful arguments to achieve his goals.
1. Why are you so angry against Your nation?
Moshe pointed out that the people were Hashem’s nation. Hashem was the one who had chosen them and orchestrated their exile to begin with. It was He who needed to take responsibility for their welfare and bring them back along the path of repentance and fidelity.
2. Why let the Egyptians suggest that You brought us to the desert to die?
Moshe wanted Hashem to consider how the decision would reflect upon Him, besides for the impact that it would have on Klal Yisrael. The desecration that this would cause to Hashem’s name would be too unbearable to even consider.
3. Remember the promise that You made to our forefathers.
Throughout the entire dialogue, Moshe did not passively accept matters as they had been presented. Rather, he sought ways to bring about a positive outcome.
This is most remarkable. As a society, we tend to readily accept positions presented by our politicians, members of the media, etc. as fact: Guilty until proven innocent. In contrast, Moshe heard firsthand from Hashem Himself, the absolute Source of Truth, about what had occurred and what the necessary recourse was. Still, he was prepared to advocate on behalf of His sinful nation, despite Hashem’s obvious wrath.
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Often, leaders are presented with a set of “facts.” This information may relate to one of our coworkers and his alleged deficiencies or failures. It may speak to negative ways in which our organization is perceived and the “necessary” steps to remedy the situation. Our inclination may be to fully accept such feedback, particularly when it comes from a credible source, especially if it comes from a superior. While such acceptance may ultimately be appropriate, it should not occur before first analyzing the situation and attempting to determine how best to respond to it. We must also be willing to suggest alternative conclusions and approaches, even when such responses may not please those who brought the problem to us in the first place.
In addition to doing their own fact finding before acting, leaders would be wise to apply some of the following strategies:
1. Build and maintain a stellar image. Image and reputation are very important components of an organization’s profile. They frame how people think of and relate to the organization and its leadership. Relationship building, trust and openness are all crucial in building a positive image, as is the deliverance of a solid, desirable product.
2. Advocate even when you’re wrong. As leaders, it is our job to advocate for our people, even when we recognize their errors, and offer them constructive criticism and reprimands as necessary. To be sure, nobody within our organization is above reproach or consequence. But when we stand up for them nonetheless, we demonstrate a deep feeling of care, concern and support. When people know that you have their backs, they become more loyal and more willing to go the extra mile to correct past errors and perform more positively moving forward.
Rabbi Naphtali Hoff is an executive coach and consultant, writer and teacher living in Passaic, NJ. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.