Parshas Shemot

Back Seat Drivers

driver's seat.jpgSo the back seat driver was at it again. Actually it wasn’t the back seat driver, it was the passenger in the front seat, but it was frustrating just the same. As we were driving up and down the hills of San Francisco, the passenger in the car (and I won’t tell you who the passenger was :)) was telling me, go there… oh, there’s less traffic in the other lane, change lanes!

If you think you know how to drive, then why don’t you take the keys? I exclaimed.
Oh, but I don’t want to drive in San Francisco; I don’t like driving on these hills.

And of course my mind began to wander. Have you ever noticed that there are two seats at the front of the car, and yet they are fundamentally different? One seat is the passenger seat and the other is the driver’s seat. The passenger can see everything that the driver can see and yet he is just a passenger.

You can be a passenger or the driver, but if you want to direct where you are going, you have to actively choose to be the driver, otherwise you will just be the passenger… and at best a back seat driver.

And when you drive, if want to go faster you have to push down on the pedal- nothing happens by itself. When there is traffic, you will be stuck behind the long lines of cars, unless you choose to find another lane or even another route!

In life it is the same. We can be a ‘passenger’ or we can be a ‘driver’. But it is up to us to choose which one it is going to be. There is no result that just happens by itself. If you want it to happen you have to take the initiative to make it happen.

In this week’s Parsha of Shemos, we are introduced to the most important leader in Jewish history – Moshe, Moses. And what are the distinguishing characteristics of Moshe? What made him so special?

The most noticeable character trait that jumps out at us in this week’s portion is Moshe taking the initiative.

When Moshe sees an Egyptian hitting a Hebrew slave (Ex. 2:11), he intervenes, he takes action (actually major action, he killed him!). How many times did people see Hebrew slaves being beaten by Egyptians, and continued on their way feeling helpless? They probably said something like, “Oh dear, I wish I could help, but that’s what happens to slaves”. Not Moshe, he took action, daring action.

Two verses later we read about how Moshe sees two Hebrews fighting. This is too much for Moshe to bear - fighting amongst brothers? So Moshe speaks up and calls them out on it; “Wicked one, why are you hitting your friend”?

Later when he runs away, when Moshe sees innocent girls in Midyan being attacked by shepherds, he comes to their defense. And he gave their sheep to drink as well.

And then when it comes to the burning bush. Moshe sees this anomaly, a bush is burning but it is not consumed. So Moshe says let me go and investigate. And that’s when Hashem calls out to him. The Midrash tells us that the bush had been burning like this for years, but no one paid attention, nobody cared. Imagine if Moshe hadn’t gone to investigate…

Taking action in the face of challenge, is not just an important aspect of leadership, it is leadership itself. Once you are taking action, then we can talk about being a good leader, versus being a bad leader. You do listen to other people’s opinions, etc. but if you don’t take action, then there is no leadership to discuss.

This would apply to business leadership, relationships and even moral and religious leadership. In every aspect of life, we can choose whether we want the challenge of being in the driver’s seat, or if we prefer the comfort of the passenger’s seat.

Moshe is challenging us to take action, to be a leader. When you see something that isn’t right, take a stand and speak up; if need be, roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty. That way, we will actually achieve something and make a positive impact. Then we will avoid the frustrations of the grandiose, yet inactive back seat driver.

Shabbat shalom