Review of Moses and the Path to Leadership

by Gad DishiMosesWeb2

Grumet’s new book, Moses and the Path to Leadership, joins an ever growing library of works utilizing close readings and other literary tools from the field of biblical studies to highlight the timeless messages embedded in the text. Grumet brings an array of modern sources that pertain to leadership development and success and weaves these throughout his analysis.

The book focuses on the leadership qualities, or lack thereof, of Moses and how certain leadership characteristics developed over the course of his career. As Grumet lays out in his closing timeline, the main prongs of focused study revolve around Moses’ leadership being people-focused or God-focused, the use or misuse of his zealotry and Moses’ management, leadership and vision of and for the nation.

For example, Grumet begins by noting how Moses is first portrayed as a zealot when he kills the Egyptian smiting a Jew. The negative result of Pharaoh wanting to kill him impacts Moses’ hotheadedness when he flees to Midian. There, his zealotry is moderated as Moses deals with the foreign bullying shepherds without violence. While in Midian, Moses’ zealotry is further tamed as Moses retreats from public life and shepherds Jethro’s flocks. For the reader, this clearly foreshadows his future role as leader of the people. However, for Moses, this served as an avenue to control his zealousness by quarantining himself away from anything that might flare his anger. 
Moses’ zealotry reappears when his ire is kindled eye-witnessing the merriment surrounding the Golden Calf. Moses calls for all God loyalists to stand by him. His fellow Levites rally the call and obey Moses’ order to slay fellow Israelites. On this point, Grumet boldly cites traditional sources criticizing Moses’ zealotry. In particular, the Pesikta DeRav Kahana which holds Moses accountable for the deaths of the 3,000 people and the Pitron Torah, a collection of Midrashic material from the ninth-tenth centuries, which proclaims that Moses’ zealotry was worse than the sin of the Golden Calf itself. Grumet does not take a position on the matter beyond illustrating that Moses’ zealousness is germane to studying that episode.

This character trait oscillates from being acted upon as when smiting the Egyptian to periods where Moses attempts to refine this character trait as in the episode of the Korah rebellion.

When dealing with the issue of Moses’ leadership being people or God focused, Grumet tracks nineteen episodes throughout Exodus and Numbers discussing Moses’ experiences. Grumet cites the battle with Amalek as signifying a point in time where Moses distances himself from the people as he physically ascends the mountain while sending Joshua to lead the troops into battle. Grumet suggests that, at times, Moses is unaware of the people’s needs and with the goings-on in the camp as might be gleaned from the episode of the ke-mitonenim (Numbers Ch. 11). There, one does not find any record of the events reaching Moses or of any interceding action taken by Moses to end the crisis. These events portray an aloof Moses who is more connected to God than to the people.

However, other instances portray Moses as people centered. For example, Moses successfully defends the people from God’s wrath following the episode of the spies and this success is repeated twice again after the Korah rebellion.

After thirty eight years in the desert this dialectic is revisited and reveals Moses both losing his patience at Mei Merivah but also being compassionate with Tzelophad’s daughters. Thus, one cannot draw a simple portrait regarding Moses’ final balance on this issue.

Grumet adeptly analyzes each one of these episodes in depth and anchors most of his analysis in the text. The cursory summary written above does not do justice to the enjoyable literary readings that Grumet presents which need to be read with Tanakh in hand in order to fully appreciate just how much Grumet’s readings accomplish in alleviating textual difficulties and in paying attention to nuance and detail.

I believe Grumet knowingly wields a double edged sword both in regards to form and content throughout the book. In form, Grumet undertakes literary readings of the text and then provides insights into Moses’ behavior as it pertains to leadership. The latter connection is critical in making the textual analysis relevant for the modern reader. At the same time, the world from which Grumet draws in order to provide a working lexicon of leadership terminology, like moving “from good to great”, seems somewhat foreign to the subject matter. To some extent, the terms may or may not fit the context but it seems that Grumet is trying to forcibly find the lessons brought to us by leadership training workshops in the Bible and then assess Moses’ performance against the latest research or trends in leadership development.

I am not disturbed by the idea of assessing Moses’ performance and tracking his successes and failures with an eye towards improved self development and communal growth. On the contrary, that is what makes the text stay vibrant and relevant throughout time. However, in maintaining the delicate balance between the two worlds of biblical scholarship and leadership development the resulting hybrid shows the reader that they have much to learn in both fields.

I was surprised that the work of Moshe Lichtenstein, Moses – Envoy of God, Envoy of His People (KTAV 2008 and originally in Hebrew entitled ציר וצאן from Yeshivat Har Etzion 2002), was not referred to at all. It would have enriched the reader’s experience to cull mutual points of interest and points of contrast between the author’s point of view and the one presented there. The readership of these works overlap and the reference seems warranted but lacking. I would have also liked to see a bibliography, uniformity in footnote citation and more extensive academic and classical references when dealing with the biblical passages.

Similarly, in the field of leadership development, Grumet reveals his mastery of the material as he cites sources for his findings from both popular and academic sources. Yet, many sources deal with business leadership, leadership in school administration, classrooms and educational settings – the latter being the world with which the author has intimately involved for many years. While the enlightening materials can surely be applied to a wide base of situations, including the instances that Grumet utilizes when analyzing Moses, it seems that sources dealing with political leadership are not as prominently referred to as one might feel is called for.

In terms of content, Grumet makes clear from the outset that he will be following each theme textually throughout the narrative and then make repeated runs through the narratives focusing on the various themes under discussion. His forewarning was helpful but did not alleviate the feeling that one finished the book at the end of each topical analysis. Grumet somewhat makes up for the iterative nature of the study in his succinct and lucid final chapter entitled “Good to Great” as well as an afterword and a visual timeline tracing the development of each theme which acts as a summary and helps piece together the larger picture.

Within each topic of discussion Grumet illustrates that Moses’ behavior and outlook are not uniform and do not develop in one direction. Rather, Grumet heralds the changing positions of Moses on the highlighted issues as a true to life portrayal of how a very human Moses struggled with these issues and repeatedly shifted his various responses in light of his experiences. Grumet’s approach allows one to hold on to a unitary text and attribute the phenomenon encountered to the masterful hand of an author intimately familiar with the human condition instead of attributing the divergent approaches to distinct authors. While this final conclusion resonates well with me, I would think that the case for rejecting a diachronic approach would be better made if raised and met head on through the use of the textual analysis. For otherwise, if the attitude towards any issue truly isn’t uniform and does not develop in one direction, who is to say that any stance is being taken by the Bible at all?

In sum, Grumet’s book should be lauded for unabashedly approaching the text and gleaning the messages that allow the text to remain relevant and vibrant for a modern world. It places key issues of leadership at center stage and triggers value laden discussions that can help develop a new generation of leaders whose communal consciousness harkens back to the echoes of the Biblical dialectics encountered by none other than Moses himself.

Rabbi Gad Dishi, Adv., Esq. is author of Jacob’s Family Dynamics (2010) and sits on the Editorial Board of the The Jewish Bible Quarterly. A member of the New York Bar Association, Dishi works as a full time real estate attorney in Israel while also completing a master’s thesis in Bible at Bar Ilan University. Anticipated publication dates for the next volumes of Dishi’s work on Joseph are anticipated in 2015.

This review originally appears in The Lookstein Center.

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One Response to Review of Moses and the Path to Leadership

  1. Generally I do not read post on blogs, but I would like to say that this write-up very compelled me to check out and do so! Your writing taste has been amazed me. Thanks, quite nice post.

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