Moses’s response to the sin of the Golden Calf may be one of the most remarkable acts of compassion ever recorded. With God intent on wiping out the Jewish nation and beginning afresh, Moses pleads and negotiates on their behalf. “If you forgive their sin is it well, but if not, erase me from the book that You have written.”
He puts his own life on the line, in order to save theirs. Not only was this a selfless act of the greatest proportions, it was the opposite of what we could have expected from the giver of the Torah. Moses’s greatest life achievement was the teaching of God’s word on Mount Sinai, during which all of Israel heard God proclaim “I am the Lord, Your God”.
And yet, this is exactly what the Children of Israel denied when they fashioned an idol to serve in His place. Moses would have been justified in sharing in God’s wrath, in wishing that this burden would go away. And yet he placed their wellbeing before his own. It is perhaps for this reason that the Torah declares that Moses was the “humblest of all men” (Numbers 12:3). He embodied the Torah law to “love one’s neighbour as one’s self” (Leviticus 19:18), a dictum which the sage Hillel said was at the core of the entire Torah (Talmud Shabbat 31a).
In Moses’s compassion he taught his greatest lesson, that we are not to use the Torah for personal gain, or to judge others. He was a true leader of Israel, one who did not see them as sinners, but as children of God. This is the paradigm of a true sage, one who is slow to anger and sees the Godliness in others.
The role of a rabbi is not that of judge but of leader, to lift the people upwards and help bring them closer to God.It is only when ego enters the arena that we seek to look down on another. Moses is the rabban shel Yisrael, the rabbi of all of Israel, and so it is in him that we find the paradigm to which all leaders should aspire.rabbi shalom morriS