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A TRIBUTE TO PRESIDENT RICHARD M.

JOEL

The Matan Torah Narrative
and Its Leadership Lessons
M uch can be learned
from the matan Torah
narrative. We often focus
on what Bnei Yisrael received during
matan Torah and how B’nei Yisrael
Dr. Penny Joel
Experiential Educator, Jerusalem, Israel

responded to the experience. But
there are many leadership lessons that
can be gleaned from the experience at bottom of Mount Sinai. But Moshe lives of the people. This experience
matan Torah. needed to return to G-d at the top of points to the important balance the
The text states that in preparation for the mountain to continue focusing on leader must maintain between leading
matan Torah, Moshe traveled up and the bigger picture and broader vision the people and understanding the
down the mountain numerous times for Bnei Yisrael. people in a thoughtful way.
to communicate with G-d and Bnei R’ Shmuel Goldin, in his work Immediately following the matan
Yisrael: Unlocking the Torah Text: Shmot, Torah narrative, the Torah pauses in
ָ ‫ וַ ּיֵ ֶרד מ ֶֹׁשה ִמ‬... )‫ ּומ ֶֹׁשה ָעלָ ה (פס’ ג‬discusses where Moshe was located
‫ה ָהר‬-‫ן‬ the story and discusses numerous laws
,‫ וַ ּיֵ ֶרד מ ֶֹׁשה‬... )‫ וַ ּיַ ַעל מ ֶֹׁשה (פס’ כ‬... )‫ (פס’ יד‬during the Aseret Hadibrot. He notes in Parshat Mishpatim. This is unusual.
.)‫ ֲאלֵ ֶהם (פס’ כה‬,‫ֹאמר‬ ָ ‫ ֶא‬that Midrash Rabba suggests that
ֶ ‫ה ָעם; וַ ּי‬-‫ל‬ Why would G-d interrupt the story
And Moses went up (v. 3) … And Moses Moshe needed to be with the people of  making a nation with a long list
went down from the mountain (v. 14) when the Aseret Hadibrot were given of laws? Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
… And Moses went up … So Moses because G-d wanted to make it clear suggests that Mishpatim interrupts
went down unto the people, and told that the Torah was coming from G-d our narrative in order to connect this
them (v. 25). and not from Moshe. great vision for our nation that we just
Shemot ch. 19 Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch heard from G-d — the broad concepts
(Shemot 19:25) also believes that of our purpose, including the Aseret
Climbing a mountain, even Mount Hadibrot — to the details of how
Sinai, is no small trip. So why did Moshe stood with the people during
matan Torah. However, the reason to actualize that vision. Mishpatim
Moshe find it necessary to make explains the legal system that guides
multiple trips up and down the Moshe stood with the people was
not to emphasize the Divine origin us toward making this vision a reality.
mountain? And was Moshe at the We, as Bnei Yisrael, need not only a
top of the mountain with G-d or at of the Torah, but rather to teach Bnei
Yisrael that Moshe was receiving the shared narrative and broad vision, but
the bottom of the mountain with the also a system to actualize that vision.
people for the Aseret Hadibrot? Torah just like they were. This was
an important message for the people By structuring the texts this way, G-d
Perhaps Moshe’s frequent trips to understand and an important is providing a model for successful
between G-d and Bnei Yisrael reflect reminder for Moshe — the people leadership. A leader must focus on
his effective leadership style. Even needed to recognize that Moshe was a compelling vision and a detail-
in the throes of preparing for matan part of the nation, obligated in the oriented plan to execute it.
Torah with G-d, Moshe continued to laws like all other members of Bnei Once Bnei Yisrael received the laws,
focus on the needs of the people by Yisrael, and Moshe was reminded of the narrative continues with cheit
repeatedly returning to them at the the importance of understanding the ha’egel (the sin of the golden calf), and

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Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
again we see a leadership lesson: They have made themselves a god of Absent these people, the larger vision
‫וַ יְ ַד ֵּבר ה’ ֶאל מ ֶֹׁשה לֶ ְך ֵרד ּכִ י ִׁש ֵחת ַע ְּמָך ֲא ֶׁשר‬ .‫ז‬ gold. 32. And now, if You forgive their crumbles. Therefore, Moshe did not
‫סרּו ַמ ֵהר ִמן ַה ֶּד ֶרְך‬ .‫ח‬:‫ם‬ ָ ִ‫ֶה ֱעלֵ ָית ֵמ ֶא ֶרץ ִמצְ ָרי‬ sin [I am satisfied,] But if not, erase want any part of it.
‫ֲא ֶׁשר צִ ּוִ ִיתם ָעׂשּו לָ ֶהם ֵעגֶ ל ַמ ֵּסכָ ה וַ ּיִ ְׁש ַּת ֲחוּו לֹו‬ me now from Your book, which You The experience at Sinai is a critical
‫ֹלהיָך יִ ְׂש ָר ֵאל ֲא ֶׁשר‬ ֶ ‫ֹאמרּו ֵאּלֶ ה ֱא‬ ְ ‫וַ ּיִ ְזְּבחּו לֹו וַ ּי‬ have written.” 33. And the Lord said to moment of the Jewish narrative that
‫ֹאמר ה‘ ֶאל מ ֶֹׁשה‬ ֶ ‫וַ ּי‬ .‫ ט‬:‫ֶה ֱעלּוָך ֵמ ֶא ֶרץ ִמצְ ָריִ ם‬ Moses: “Whoever has sinned against Me, teaches us many lessons in leadership.
‫ָר ִא ִיתי ֶאת ָה ָעם ַהּזֶ ה וְ ִהּנֵ ה ַעם ְק ֵׁשה ע ֶֹרף‬ him I will erase from My book!” 34. And Moshe was a leader who understood
‫וְ ַע ָּתה ַהּנִ ָיחה ּלִ י וְ יִ ַחר ַא ִּפי ָב ֶהם וַ ֲאכַ ּלֵ ם‬ .‫י‬:‫הּוא‬ now go, lead the people to [the place] of that his role as leader included seeing
‫וַ ּיָ ָׁשב מ ֶֹׁשה‬ .‫ לא‬... :‫אֹותָך לְ גֹוי ּגָ דֹול‬ ְ ‫וְ ֶא ֱע ֶׂשה‬ which I have spoken to you. Behold My the bigger picture, the vision for
angel will go before you. But on the day I
‫ֹאמר ָאּנָ א ָח ָטא ָה ָעם ַהּזֶ ה ֲח ָט ָאה‬ ַ ‫ֶאל ה’ וַ ּי‬ the nation, and understanding the
‫וְ ַע ָּתה ִאם‬ .‫ לב‬:‫ֹלהי זָ ָהב‬ ֵ ‫גְ דֹלָ ה וַ ּיַ ֲעׂשּו לָ ֶהם ֱא‬ make an accounting [of sins upon them], perspectives and needs of the people.
‫אתם וְ ִאם ַאיִ ן ְמ ֵחנִ י נָ א ִמ ִּס ְפ ְרָך ֲא ֶׁשר‬ ָ ‫ִּת ָּׂשא ַח ָּט‬ I will bring their sin to account against Ultimately, Moshe set the example
‫ֹאמר ה‘ ֶאל מ ֶֹׁשה ִמי ֲא ֶׁשר ָח ָטא‬ ֶ ‫וַ ּי‬ .‫ לג‬:‫ּכָ ָת ְב ָּת‬ them.” for us by emphasizing that you can’t
‫וְ ַע ָּתה לֵ ְך נְ ֵחה ֶאת ָהעָ ם‬ .‫ לד‬:‫לִ י ֶא ְמ ֶחּנּו ִמ ִּס ְפ ִרי‬ Shemot Chapter 32 (Judaica Press forfeit the people for the vision.
Translation)
‫ֶאל ֲא ֶׁשר ִּד ַּב ְר ִּתי לָ ְך ִהּנֵ ה ַמלְ ָאכִ י יֵ לֵ ְך לְ ָפנֶ יָך‬ Moshe’s sincerity and true caring for
:‫אתם‬ ָ ‫ְּוביֹום ָּפ ְק ִדי ָּופ ַק ְד ִּתי ֲעלֵ ֶיהם ַח ָּט‬ What do we learn from Moshe’s the people motivated him to defend
7. And the Lord said to Moses: “Go, reaction to G-d? the people with his life. What could
descend, for your people that you have ‫מּואל ָא ַמר ְמלַ ֵּמד ֶׁש ָּמ ַסר עַ צְ מֹו לְ ִמ ָיתה‬ ֵ ‫ְׁש‬
be a greater example of a leader
brought up from the land of Egypt have .‫עֲ לֵ ֶיהם ֶׁשּנֶ ֱא ַמר וְ ִאם ַאין ְמ ֵחּנִי נָ א ִמ ִּס ְפ ְרָך‬
completely committed to his people?
acted corruptly. 8. They have quickly Shmuel taught: We can infer that I have had the opportunity to watch
turned away from the path that I have [Moses] was willing to die for [the Jewish my father, with the incredible support
commanded them; they have made people] as it states “But if not, erase me of my mother, be a thoughtful and
themselves a molten calf! And they now from Your book.” compassionate leader in many
have prostrated themselves before it, Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 32a settings. Motivated by a desire to make
slaughtered sacrifices to it, and said: the world better and, in particular,
‘These are your gods, O Israel, who The Gemara discusses how Moshe
to make Jews feel connected to their
have brought you up from the land of was willing to give up his life for
Judaism in a meaningful way, my
Egypt.’” 9. And the Lord said to Moses: Bnei Yisrael. When Moshe came
father has truly taken to heart the
“I have seen this people and behold! to the defense of Bnei Yisrael, his
example set by Moshe Rabbeinu. He
They are a stiff necked people. 10. Now compassion for the people is obvious.
has consistently prioritized personal
leave Me alone, and My anger will He could have easily given up on
relationships with people while also
be kindled against them so that I will Bnei Yisrael but instead, Moshe
articulating and implementing a vision
annihilate them, and I will make you demonstrated that he is so invested in
for Yeshiva University. Both of these
into a great nation.” … 31. And Moses the people, that he was willing to die
aspects of his leadership are truly
returned to the Lord and said: “Please! for them. He believed that Bnei Yisrael
inspiring.
This people has committed a grave sin. were the key element of G-d’s vision.

Moshe continued to focus on the
needs of the people by repeatedly
returning to them at the bottom of
Mount Sinai. But Moshe needed
to return to G-d at the top of the
mountain to continue focusing
on the bigger picture and broader
vision for Bnei Yisrael.
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Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777