Moshe was eighty years old when he stumbled upon the burning bush. He was a senior shepherd entering into the final trimester of his life. He was a poor man. Those weren’t his own flocks that he was watching, they belonged to his aged father-in-law Yisro. He had been working for his father-in law for almost sixty years. He had been isolated from civilization and certainly from the metropolis of Egypt, the pyramids, contemporary Egyptian culture and the Pharaohs. He hadn’t seen a Jew in six decades. Now, a burning bush!
“Moshe!” Hashem called to him. “The time has arrived for your dream to come true. I have chosen you to free the Jewish people from their bondage!”
“My dream!” Moshe responded, “Sixty years ago when I lived in the palace of Pharaoh I had that dream. At that time I was an idealist, I had a say in the government, and I had energy. I was twenty years old then, but now I am eighty! I have changed, times have changed, and I can’t even speak publicly any longer.
The Jewish people have also changed. Sixty years ago they still believed in the G-d of Avraham; they remembered Yaakov and Yosef. Today the Jews have assimilated into the depths of Egyptian culture.” Moshe hid his face and said to Hashem – “Who are You? What is Your name?”
Hashem was disappointed with Moshe’s response. Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov never asked Hashem His name. (Talmud Sanhedrin 111a)
It is important for us to understand the depth of Moshe’s hesitation. Everything that Hashem had planned was a first. For the first time in history a man would stand up and say, “Hashem sent me!” (Rambam, Moreh Nevuchim 1;63) For the first time in history Hashem would break with the nature He created and perform miracles in order to save a nation. For the first time in history a nation would be freed and the powerful Egyptians would be defeated. For the first time in Moshe’s life he would become a leader.
For seven days Moshe argued with Hashem about his appointment as leader.
Moshe really did not want the job. “Maybe an angel can do the job, maybe my brother Aharon.” But Hashem insisted – it had to be Moshe.
Moshe was not the obvious candidate for Rav of Israel. He was the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yet the more Moshe argued for his under-qualifications, the more Hashem wanted him for the job. Hashem didn’t want a politician. He wasn’t looking for a smooth talker. He wasn’t looking for someone who could work the crowd; He was looking for someone who could work his soul.
Unassuming leadership has been the hallmark of our Gedolim since Moshe Rabeinu. People have achieved great positions by pressing the flesh and politicking, but not in Torah leadership; self-marketing has never made a Gadol. The need to be popular, powerful and public often creates the antithesis of leadership quality. Hashem picked Moshe.
As we begin the story of Moshe, we begin a course in greatness. Lesson one: It’s not where you’d expect to find it. It’s not necessarily in the one who can posture and project. Greatness lies with the sincere and humble, who can make room for Hashem to run the show.
Rav Chaim of Valozhin commented that Moshe could be compared to a container. The thinner the walls the more it can hold. When you choose a cup do you want a lot of cup or a lot of contents? Because Moshe was humble he was able to contain the Shechina. Rav Chaim summed it up. ‘Anyone who has the humility of Moshe Rabeinu can also have his Torah.’