Hidden in this week’s parashah is a subtle lesson on successful leadership. Moses recalls his two attempts to receive the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, referring to the instructions God gives him after each episode.
At the end of the first forty-day period, God is incensed at the people’s descent into idolatry and threatens to obliterate them. He orders Moses to kum red, literally “arise and descend”.
If the people are to overcome the sin of the Golden Calf, Moses must literally descend to their level. He must experience the catastrophe at first hand in order to understand how low they have fallen and avoid disaster. At this moment, a leader enjoying splendid isolation with the Almighty is inappropriate.
Moses’s second ascent to Mount Sinai follows huge social transformation. But although the people have been transformed, Moses has not. When he recalls this second revelation, his story is unchanged. He cannot see beyond the people’s wickedness and God’s anger.
It is God who subtly helps Moses to change, telling him this time to kum lech, “arise and go”, a phrase used rarely in the Bible and always with the sense of spurring a reluctant protagonist into action. Moses is stuck in the past, dwelling on the people’s previous transgressions. God gently encourages him to move on. The result is a moment of national transcendence.
For us, there are times of crisis, when a leader must “arise and descend” get their hands dirty and focus on grassroots. But it is too easy for those in authority to lose their sense of purpose and become jaded by past disappointments. A leader must recognise when it is time to “arise and go!” leave previous setbacks in the past and encourage those in their charge to move forwards towards their goal.