The greatest qualities of leadership are often revealed during severe crises, as Sir Winston Churchill famously said, “Character is manifested in the great moments.”
During the episode of the golden calf, Moshe was told by G-d, “Go down from the mountain because your people have become corrupt.” G-d’s instructions to Moshe in response to this calamitous event was a lesson in leadership.
Very often, when leaders are confronted with a state of political and social disarray, they may take refuge in the seclusion of their retreats, and may come forth only when the masses come clamoring for their guidance and leadership.
Moshe was secure in the ultimate of retreats, being taught Torah directly from G-d but when the people fell into anarchy, he was told, “Go down.” Now is not the time to go into seclusion to enhance your knowledge of Torah and your own spirituality, your people are leaderless and they need you! Your people need you and you must set aside your personal growth and tend to the needs of your people.
Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman (1875-1941), one of the leaders of Lithuanian Jewry, was on a visit to America in 1939 collecting funds for his yeshiva and community when the Second World War began, and although he could have remained and avoided the imminent catastrophe spreading in Europe, he never considered it as a possibility. He felt that he must return to his Yeshiva and be with his students.
This is the eternal teaching of the Torah that when your people are adrift and in need, do not isolate yourself from them, but go out and be amongst them.
Just as Moshe descended the holiest mountain in the world to be a true leader, we in our personal lives, have the opportunity to do the same, when people we know are faced with hardships to put ourselves in the eye of the storm, to offer our assistance, to make a true difference.