Moshe (Moses) came to the Jewish people to tell them their exile would soon be coming to an end. Yet what was their response? “They did not listen to Moshe, because of their shortened spirit and hard work” [Ex. 6:9].
G-d then tells Moshe to go to Pharaoh, to tell him to let the Jewish people go free. Moshe responds with surprise, “The Jewish people did not listen to me, so how could Pharaoh listen to me — I have closed lips.” [6:12]. While Moshe did have a speech impediment which could have impeded his efforts, the Chassidic commentary of the Sfas Emes offers a homiletic interpretation: If the people will not listen to me and I don’t have their support, how could I ask Pharoah to obey the order to let them leave Egypt? Without the support of my followers, my lips are closed. I cannot be an effective leader.
A leader of a community, institution, state or country has tremendous responsibility and authority. However, without the support of the people, his or her abilities are limited. Of course, leaders are appointed to make decisions and take action without consensus from others; one who allows his underlings to play him like a toy is a follower, not a leader. Yet, the strength he brings to the issues he will face is the knowledge that his subordinates support his leadership and believe in him. Without their support, his decisions will almost certainly fail on arrival. “There is no king without a nation (Jewish expression).”
A more cynical rendering of that might be, “we get the leaders we deserve.”
When things go wrong, it’s tempting to immediately blame the leadership. Before we do that, it’s wise to pause and reflect inward, to consider our responsibility to support our leaders and their desire to represent us. Often their failure to lead is a result of our failure to follow.