In this week’s parasha, Va’era, Danny Weininger explores Moshe’s confrontation with Pharaoh. How does Moshe take on the mantle of leadership? What can a new rabbi learn from Moshe’s experience?
I first considered becoming a rabbi in June 2012, watching my brother, Rabbi Aaron Weininger, begin his career at his then-new position. Over the years I have had the privilege of watching him work with congregants of all ages and backgrounds — always listening attentively, speaking thoughtfully and sincerely, a reliable source of strength and comfort. Seeing Aaron, I was inspired to become a teacher and leader in the Jewish community. After years of work, this week I will be ordained at the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary and in this week’s parsha, VaEra, I have learned an additional key insight about rabbinic work.
Our reading opens as God commands Moshe to go back and tell Israel that God has come to fulfill the Divine promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moshe, having just heard the disdain of Israel, senses they aren’t willing to listen and tells God. The Divine in turn instructs Moshe to then go back to Pharaoh and demand he release Israel from slavery. Again, Moshe demurs, having just returned from Pharaoh’s palace where the king denied his initial request. According to the newly-appointed leader, neither the oppressed nor the oppressor are willing audiences. Nonetheless, God then tells him to go speak with both Israel and Pharaoh. Moshe subsequently listens, and most importantly, succeeds.
Somehow he pulls it off — and I wonder, how did he do it? Even though he lacked confidence and eloquence, Moshe identifies his problems, and solves them one at a time, each according to their particular circumstances. We find a record of his successes in Tractate Megillah 13a, where it is taught that Moshe is referred to as a provider, a disciplinarian, a go-between, and a source of shelter. The rabbinic tradition remembers Moshe so because he was able to lead us through various crises despite his concerns and trepidations.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l teaches that this message is found throughout Jewish tradition and history: “the worse things get, the stronger we become. Jews are the people who not only survive but thrive in adversity.” If as a people we thrive in adversity, so must our leadership. Good rabbinic work requires flexibility, attentiveness, patience, persistence, and at times the bravery to call out the Holy One. Yet God doesn’t simply answer a prayer or grant a request, God asks us to do the work. Becoming a good rabbi demands that I be flexible, attentive, and comforting. Yet the first step is to acknowledge my fears and concerns, and nonetheless persist in doing the work.
Danny Weininger (one of Schechter Rabbinical Seminary’s candidates for ordination on Thursday, December 30th) grew up in a Conservative community in Westchester, NY. After making aliya ten years ago, Danny is now working as the campus rabbi of the Kivunim Gap Year Program; and at the Jewish Agency’s Israel Education Lab, Makom, as the Program Manager for the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict course.
His connection with Jewish tradition was rekindled after seeing his brother enter the rabbinate as a pulpit rabbi. Danny realized that the rabbinate was also a path for him where he could find a way to delve into Judaism with a joyous, happy approach to mitzvot.