This week’s Torah portion contains the story of the Golden Calf. Through this ancient tale, important lessons concerning leadership are presented as we observe Moses responding to the chaos that surrounds him in two very different ways. One response is negative and the other is positive.
The first response is filled with rage. Moses sees the Israelites worshiping a golden calf and throws the 10 Commandments to the ground causing them to shatter at the base of the mountain. Like a child throwing a fit, Moses allows his emotions to compromise his behaviors. Such emotionality leads to poor judgment, and through this first part of the story, we come to understand that allowing ourselves to become emotionally involved in any conflict can lead to highly destructive behaviors.
In contrast to this first demonstration of rage-filled action, Moses later helps us to see and understand a more appropriate model for leadership in times of crisis. After his angry outburst, Moses chooses to remove himself from the situation. He prays; he asks for forgiveness; and he humbles himself before God. In short, Moses takes a “time out,” and for this, Moses is rewarded. For it is only at this point, that Moses is permitted to attain a glimpse of God’s presence.
The juxtaposition of these two responses serves to teach us that whenever we find ourselves in a position of leadership in the face of crisis it is imperative to maintain clarity of mind. In his second series of actions, Moses does everything he can to maintain a non-anxious presence. He takes the time to find clarity of mind; he does not allow himself to become emotionally entangled; he humbles his heart; and he quiets his soul through prayer.
These are things we can all try to practice as we face the inevitable chaos of life. In times of disappointment and frustration, emotional distance, humility and prayer can go a long way in helping us to keep calm and react in positive ways. And when we do, we, like Moses, may just get a glimpse of the Divine Presence as an added bonus.