On Ratings and Public Relations
HaRav Yosef Carmel
Public stature is one measure of a person. One who amasses and maintains over time a following of devotees apparently has something to offer. Public recognition even has halachic significance in certain realms. It is apparently not possible to bestow kingship on one whom the nation does not accept. According to the Rambam and Rashbam, the rule that the law of the land is the law is predicated on public acceptance. Even a judge seems to need the public to accept him as a “known person in the tribe.”
On the other hand, popularity is not always reliable. A community can look for a leader who is society’s lowest common denominator, in which case they may spiral downward morally. A leader who always consults the polls before acting is not a leader but one who is led. He will be unable to elevate the nation, and there will almost always be a leadership crisis.
On the eve of the Exodus from Egypt, the Torah relates to Moshe’s stature. “Hashem placed the grace of the nation in the eyes of Egypt; also the man Moshe was very great in the Land of Egypt, in the eyes of Pharaoh’s servants and in the eyes of the nation” (Shemot 11:3).
Ibn Ezra posits that the issue discussed is only the status of the Jews and their leader in the eyes of the Egyptians. Their positive impression explains the matter at hand, that the Egyptians lent them expensive wares. Moshe’s status was noteworthy, as some Egyptians gave to Jews because of Moshe’s stature. The Ramban rejects the Ibn Ezra’s approach on linguistic grounds. He interprets that the Egyptians respected and miraculously did not harbor ill feelings toward the Israelites despite the plagues. However, he says that the final words, “in the eyes of the nation,” refer to the Israelites’ outlook on Moshe. The reason this was noteworthy (at the stage that Moshe was riding a wave of success) is that it stresses that Moshe was consistent in his approach, acting as needed both at times that it made him popular and unpopular. The pasuk teaches us that his consistency paid off, as it showed the people that he was a trustworthy leader and prophet.
We conclude with the Meshech Chochma’s idea on this pasuk, which assumes, like the Ibn Ezra, that the pasuk focuses on the Egyptians’ outlook. One can impress a nation by impressing the intelligentsia with one’s consistency and reliability and allow that to trickle down over time to the nation. The other way is to obtain popularity by using public relations “spins” to reach the masses and the powerful at once. The former method is the longer but truer method. With this in mind, the pasuk stresses the order of events, that Moshe first became respected among the servants of Pharaoh, among whom he represented Hashem’s word and only later did it spread to the general Egyptian populace.
May we pray for this type of leader!