Religion and Contemporary Management: Moses as a Model for Effective Leadership

Religion and Contemporary Management: Moses as a Model for Effective Leadership

by Arthur J. Wolak


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781783085996
Publisher: Anthem Press
Publication date: 11/21/2016
Pages: 250
Product dimensions: 9.10(w) x 6.00(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Dr. Arthur J. Wolak is President of CMI Chat Media Inc. He received his PhD in management from Macquarie University, Australia, and earned graduate degrees in comparative religion from Gratz College. Wolak has published articles in ‘The International Journal of Organizational Analysis’, ‘The Australasian Canadian Studies Journal’ and ‘The Jewish Bible Quarterly’.

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Religion and Contemporary Management

Moses as a Model for Effective Leadership

By Arthur J. Wolak

Wimbledon Publishing Company

Copyright © 2016 Arthur J. Wolak
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78308-601-6



Leadership has become one of the key buzzwords in contemporary business, politics and organizations of every type, including the nonprofit, educational and public administration sectors. While modern leadership theorists suggest various models, traits and approaches to leadership behavior that purport novelty, as Ecclesiastes famously reports, "There is nothing new beneath the sun!" The truth is that, while current leadership and management vocabulary might differ from the Torah, many of the notions advocated by contemporary leadership theorists appear to emulate major behaviors, traits, functions, experiences and actions ascribed to Moses in the first five books of the Hebrew Bible.

Few might think of Moses as a leader, or even a manager, in the contemporary sense, but Moses — among the most significant leaders to emerge in Western civilization — is arguably the quintessential example of leadership from whom much can be learned by people entering, and occupying, leadership positions.

Moses, asserts Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, is "the preeminent figure of the Hebrew Bible" about whom we have considerable biographical details because we are told how he met his wife, Tzipporah, and we know the names of his two sons, Gershom and Eliezer, as well as of his father, Amram; his mother, Jochebed; his brother, Aaron; and his sister, Miriam. We even know the story of a certain amount of animosity that his older siblings, Miriam and Aaron, felt toward him at one point in the desert wanderings. Such ill will has even led some biblical scholars to mark this point as the beginning of the end of Moses' leadership. Beyond familial jealousy, however, what we know best about Moses are his leadership qualities, tactics, even errors of judgment, which are amply described in the pages of the Bible.

Indeed, Moses' life and career as a leader are outlined in detail in the Torah, or the Five Books of Moses as the first books of the Hebrew Bible are widely known. He rises to prominence in the second book, Exodus, but his presence is very much evident in the subsequent books of the Torah — Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy — and referenced in later books of the Tanakh, such as in the Book of Joshua, which refers back to particular incidents connected to Moses and his leadership of the Israelites. Moses is also the source of a seemingly endless amount of ancient and modern commentary, not to mention contemporary popular works spanning such diverse fields as religion, history, political science and psychoanalysis.

On the whole, one can easily conclude that Moses was a leader par excellence. Yet, while he typically triumphed, he also made mistakes — or, rather, may not always have made the right decision if we are permitted to make such retroactive judgments from an analysis of the biblical text. In his role as leader over a vast number of people, however, he possessed a vision, inspired and motivated his followers to ultimately accept it, abided by a mission statement, and empowered others through delegation to become leaders themselves. Each of these terms associated with modern leadership is evident in Moses' personal leadership style, an approach that countless generations have emulated until this very day.

Like other key biblical figures, Moses proves a very important role model because he is an example of leadership that reveals both achievements and failings. In other words, he led but was flawed. He faced human dilemmas as all people do. "Unlike the founders of other religions or great leaders in other traditions," notes Jewish writer, philosopher and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, "Moses is depicted as human, both great and fallible. While every other religion tends to transform its founder into a semi-god, Judaism does everything to humanize Moses." This helps us remember that Moses was neither a divine being nor a saint. He was human, and, as such, he was not perfect. As a human being, he committed sin, to various degrees of identification and seriousness. Yet, the wise words of Ecclesiastes apply: "For there is not one good man on earth who does what is best and doesn't err."

Moses must certainly have been good or else why would the pages of the Bible relate how God specifically chose him to become the leader of the Israelites? However, God later chose Saul to become the first king even though this selection did not appear to work out very well, and yet it could be argued that Saul started out with good intentions only to subsequently change for the worse. As the Bible relates, when Saul disobeyed God's command to destroy all of the Amalekites and even their animals, yet Saul chose to spare the lives of King Agag of Amalek and the most valuable animals in the Amalekites' possession — including sheep, oxen and lambs — God complained to Samuel, "I regret that I made Saul king, for he has turned away from Me and has not carried out My commands." Hence, in contrast, based on what we read in the Bible about Moses' behavior, we can easily view Moses as "good" even according to our own human standards of goodness. What the reader of the Torah implicitly understands is that Moses was human, as reflected in the famous words of eighteenth-century English writer Alexander Pope: "To err is human, to forgive, divine."

A human being can only hope — and pray in accordance with religious tradition — that, after expressing sincere remorse, one's sins, or errors of judgment, can be forgiven. But they were not always forgiven by God in the case of Moses, as when Moses twice struck the rock with his rod in order to give a complaining flock of Israelites water to drink, making a mistake in the process that led God to punish Moses by preventing his ultimate entrance into the Promised Land.

In the Jewish tradition, a major theme of the Jewish High Holiday liturgy culminating in Yom Kippur is seeking Divine forgiveness for one's sins against God. Throughout the year, a prayer of forgiveness is also included in the sixth blessing of the Weekday Amidah — the "standing prayer," also known as the Shemoneh Esrei (eighteen benedictions, though there are traditionally nineteen) or, simply, Ha'Tefillah (the prayer) due to the centrality of this prayer rubric to the traditional Jewish weekday prayer services. Rabbi Hayim Donin notes that "the prophets of Israel assure us that God will forgive us in the wake of sincere repentance (Is. 55:7)," a blessing emphasizing "that God has set no limit to His pardoning grace."

God directed Moses to "order the rock to yield its water." Moses' failure to do so amounted to "public disobedience of God's instructions, which in itself is punishable." Biblical scholar Jacob Milgrom argues that Moses may have resorted to Egyptian magic out of desperation, and this very act of idolatry was truly unforgivable in the eyes of God, even though "Moses offers no incantations, recites no formulas, intones no esoteric names; instead, he makes a common place gesture — strikes with his rod, pours water, throws up soot (Exod. 4:9; 9:8), puts his hand in his skirt, or raises his arm high (Exod. 4:6–7; 17:11) — all the while remaining silent." Indeed, Milgrom provides at least ten reasons given by the medieval Jewish commentators for Moses' punishment because, as Milgrom notes, "the punishment is clear; but what is the crime?" Ultimately, we can only speculate about this.

However, given the complaints Moses heard from the people when he presented God's commandments, Wiesel even suggests, "Who knows? Perhaps God's decision not to let him enter the promised land was meant as a reward rather than as punishment?" Whatever the case, it remains clear that Moses' influence was profound since we can learn from his errors of judgment just as we can marvel at his effective leadership skills.

* * *

Sir Winston Churchill — the preeminent twentieth-century British political leader — wrote about Moses — the preeminent Israelite and biblical leader. Historian and official Churchill biographer Sir Martin Gilbert observed that "Churchill had long been fascinated by Jewish history, by the Jewish involvement with the events of the time, and above all by the Jews' monotheism and ethics. These seemed to him a central factor in the evolution and maintenance of modern civilization."

On November 8, 1931, Churchill published an article entitled "Moses" in the Sunday Chronicle — part of a series called "Great Bible Stories Retold by the World's Best Writers" — in which he argued against those who proclaimed that the Jewish leader was just myth and never existed. Quoting from Churchill's article, Gilbert relates, "We believe that the most scientific view, the most up-to-date and rationalistic conception, will find its fullest satisfaction in taking the Bible story literally, and in identifying one of the greatest of human beings with the most decisive leap-forward ever discernible in the human story."

Churchill stressed that the Bible is an important historical document, inspired by God, and that Moses was, as the Bible describes, a preeminent leader. As Gilbert notes, Churchill wrote that Moses

was the greatest of the prophets, who spoke in person to the God of Israel; he was the national hero who led the Chosen people out of the land of bondage, through the perils of the wilderness, and brought them to the very threshold of the Promised Land; he was the supreme lawgiver, who received from God that remarkable code upon which the religious, moral, and social life of the nation was so securely fastened. Tradition lastly ascribed to him the authorship of the whole Pentateuch [Torah], and the mystery that surrounded his death added to his prestige.

Churchill argued vigorously that Moses was not simply an allegorical figure but a real person and that his existence and leadership represented true historical events. Indeed, while the acceptance of Moses as a leader or even as a living, breathing human being ultimately rests on faith in the words of the Hebrew Bible because of lack of tangible evidence of Moses that some skeptics demand for belief in his existence, this is ultimately irrelevant to the leadership question because much can be learned from the experiences of Moses that the Bible carefully describes, which one can argue was either the source — or, at the very least, a source — of inspiration for many contemporary notions of leadership.

Jewish-communal leadership authority Hal Lewis notes that the contemporary "organized Jewish community rarely takes a comprehensive approach" to leadership qualities and their cultivation. Even on those occurrences when organizations and groups offer courses or instructional programs claiming to be "leadership development," they are most typically episodic and/or very elitist. In their methodologies, they are likely to focus either on developing management skills — for example, budgeting, agenda planning and public relations — or general Jewish literacy — that is, holidays, history and religious practices. Lewis is right to emphasize that, while "each of these areas may be important to the success of Jewish organizational life, none can legitimately be called leadership development."

Regarding Lewis' observation of the lack of effective leadership training he found in Jewish organizations — something not exclusive to them but evident in diverse religious and nonreligious organizations — there is evidence for this assertion. Considering one such Jewish publication intended for communal or organizational leaders, the manual claims to be "intended as a guide toward more effective leadership [...] designed for use by leaders of many different kinds of groups," including volunteer and professional associations, nonprofit organizations and fraternal, social and civic organizations. Yet this book, Leadership Logic: A Manual of Organizational Know-How — featuring the word "leadership" in its title — only spends three pages actually discussing the functions, responsibilities, duties, attitudes, development, rewards, benefits and pitfalls of leadership. The rest of the book — 100 pages' worth — focuses on managerial tasks of very little relevance to effective leadership or the leader's role. This also supports the view that there exists today some confusion over the different roles that separate leaders from managers. The two are not synonymous even though some skills associated with one can be useful for the other.

Moses' example of leadership, therefore, deserves careful consideration for its significant application to contemporary leadership, including its desirable traits, values and actions, because what leadership theorists advocate today largely emulates what the Bible describes concerning Moses and his leadership experience. Thus, Moses' influence on contemporary leadership trends appears pervasive in Western culture, even if contemporary leadership theorists do not explicitly cite the Torah as a source for leadership ideas advanced in our time. Yet, as Lewis notes, "Judaism offers a definitive view as to what it means to be an effective leader [...] honed over centuries that is at the same time profoundly idealistic and abundantly pragmatic." Hence, leadership traits and skills gleaned from Moses are by no means limited to adherents of Judaism but can be emulated by anyone who would like to become a better leader from examining this most worthy of examples.

From a Jewish perspective, Moses certainly represents an inspiring model for this leadership approach. From Moses, we can even apply a popular Yiddish term to his character that comes through his leadership style. Through his example, Moses proved to be a mensch, a state of being and positive reflection of his character and values that undoubtedly fueled his leadership qualities.



Winston Churchill stressed in his 1931 article that Moses is among the preeminent figures in the Hebrew Bible. Throughout the history of Western civilization, Moses not only maintains a prominent position in the monotheistic tradition — particularly respected by adherents of Judaism, Christianity and Islam — but also stands as a figure of influence in secular life through his example as a leader of the ancient Israelites.

According to Jewish tradition, Moses is considered to be the greatest prophet. So significant is Moses to Judaism that, in his Thirteen Principles of Faith, the great Jewish philosopher, physician and rabbi Moses ben Maimon — popularly known as Maimonides, or by the Hebrew acronym Rambam — includes as the seventh fundamental principle that Moses was the greatest prophet who ever lived and that no other prophet could comprehend God better than Moses. A thousand years earlier, the ancient rabbis said, in the very first verse of Mishnah Pirkei Avot (a Mishnaic tractate known as "Sayings of the Fathers" or "Sages"), that Moses received the Torah from Sinai and passed it on to Joshua, who passed it on to the Elders, who passed it on to the Prophets, and that the Prophets passed it on to the Men of the Great Assembly.

"This introductory sentence describes the chain of tradition leading up to the sayings in Avot," observes William Berkson, who notes that "Avot was put in nearly final form around 200 CE by one of the last and greatest sages in the book, Yehuda [Judah] HaNasi," who made Avot a significant part of his "compendium of post-biblical legal rulings known as the Mishnah, meaning 'recitation' or 'repetition'." Berkson notes, the later "Talmud, meaning 'study,' is a collection of extensive commentaries on the Mishnah, known as Gemara, 'completion' together with those portions of the Mishnah that have been commented upon." Hence, the laws of the Torah were described as transmitted to the Jewish people from Divine instruction to Moses at Sinai, and passed down through the generations. Moses was pivotal in this chain that transmitted the Torah down to the rabbis, which underscored their authority in subsequent Jewish tradition.

Judah HaNasi, the leading rabbi of his day, had redacted the Mishnah, a document that traditionally remains the repository of the Oral Law. Hence, the Mishnah proved to be an extremely influential intellectual product of the ancient rabbis, who asserted that the Oral Law had been given along with the Written Law at Sinai, only put into writing to prevent its loss after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE. Thus, in this way, the Mishnah is linked to Moses, who is said to have first received the Torah at Sinai.

Rabbinic tradition holds that these Men of the Great Assembly (known in Hebrew as Anshei Knesset Ha'Gedolah) mentioned in Pirkei Avot 1:1, who received the Torah from Moses through the listed intermediaries, were the leaders of the Jewish people during the time they functioned. They represented a bridge between the end of the era of the biblical prophets and the Hellenistic period. From them these transmissions of Written and Oral Torah were debated and discussed in rabbinic literature, and their teachings spread throughout the Jewish world. Over time, many of their ideas were transmitted through various channels to Western society generally .

Moses' stature in the Jewish tradition is, arguably, unrivaled, despite personal faults that only confirm he was human and not Divine. As the Torah states, "Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses — whom the Lord singled out, face to face, for the various signs and portents that the Lord sent him to display in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his courtiers and his whole country, and for all the great might and awesome power that Moses displayed before all Israel."


Excerpted from Religion and Contemporary Management by Arthur J. Wolak. Copyright © 2016 Arthur J. Wolak. Excerpted by permission of Wimbledon Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements; Foreword by Ruth Sandberg; Foreword by Larry Pate; About the Author; Epigraph; Introduction; 1. Ancient Leadership for Present Times; 2. Defining Leadership; 3. Leaders and Managers; 4. Heroism, Charisma and Their Limitations; 5. Empathic Leadership; 6. Humility – the Antithesis of Arrogance; 7. Moses’ Essential Leadership Skills; 8. Assessing Moses’ Leadership Style; Glossary; Bibliography; Index

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“In his down-to-earth, accessible writing style, Wolak extracts key lessons from Moses and other Jewish leaders, and extrapolates those features of successful leadership that go beyond the religious context. Whether you are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or […] whether you are an organizational leader or are simply interested in ethical leadership, Religion and Contemporary Management serves as a model for people who want to become the kind of leaders that our modern world truly needs.”

—Traci Shoblom, Owner and Creative Director, Shoblom Productions, USA

"For any reader who aspires to change the landscape of modern society, whether in business, politics, religion, or any other area where leaders have power, Religion and Contemporary Management: Moses as a Model for Effective Leadership is a valuable resource. It’s time to free ourselves from the corruption that seems so rampant these days, and to follow in the footsteps of Moses."

—Larry Pate, Chief Learning Officer, Decision Systems International, and Adjunct Professor, California State University, Long Beach, USA

“Religion and Contemporary Management presents Moses, a hero to three religious traditions, as an exemplary leader whose blend of skill, character and vision defies easy categorization. Wolak’s analysis is informative, inspiring, interdisciplinary and integrative—an excellent read for both beginners and experts.”

—Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan, Director of Inter-Religious Studies, Vancouver School of Theology, Canada

“Moses is shown to be a mensch with a visionary tough empathy approach to empowerment of people that fits well with the needs and expectations of our time.”

—Charles Wankel, Professor of Management, St. John’s University, USA

"While we know that great historical figures such as Moses had a profound influence on our world, we often know much less about what they actually did to accomplish their impact. Wolak provides a revealing study of Moses’ key leadership attributes and, most importantly, how these are applicable today. This book is a compelling read on how we can become more reflective about what we need to do to develop ourselves and others to become the leaders we wish to be.” –John Milliman, Professor of Management & Organization, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, USA

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