Passover, traditionally, is no time to think about work. In previous years, many of us take the week after the Seder, which often coincides with spring break, to spend time with family, do a bit of traveling, and generally enjoy life. But this year, like all of us, I’m cooped up in my home, worrying about everything from the plague raging outside to the economic devastation that’s likely to follow in its wake.
That’s where Moses comes in.
If we spend any time thinking about the ancient prophet at all, it’s usually just as a fiery old seer, all beard and burning desire for God. But reading the story of the Exodus this year, it occurred to me that Moses is more modern than we give him credit for being. In fact, he’s precisely the life and career coach we need right now.
The reason is simple: Moses was primitive. I’m not saying this because he lived a long time ago in a premodern world. I’m saying this because, having spent three decades working with billionaires, government ministers, and other inspiring leaders, and interviewing others for a new book on the subject, I’ve come to recognize a basic quality they all share: a giddy rejection of their civilization’s set rules. Whereas the civilized person seeks to generate agreement, the primitive person is oppositional. Whereas the civilized person is told to think rationally, the primitive person is given to messianic fits of vision. Whereas the civilized person values stability above all, the primitive person is nomadic and unafraid to wander from one place to the next. Some people—think Elon Musk, say—are pure primitives, but there’s a little primitive instinct in each of us. The key to moving forward, I learned from my research, is to tap into that instinct.
Like Moses: Raised in luxury in Pharaoh’s palace, he didn’t hesitate for a second when confronted with injustice, and took action that banished him from his house and into the desert. Then, when God tasked him with leading the Israelites out of Egypt, he again rose to the occasion, seizing an opportunity that most other humans would’ve found too risky, too crazy, too messianic. To paraphrase the title of a once-popular self-help book, Moses felt the fear and did it anyway. Rather than stay put and let anxiety paralyze him, he did what he felt was right and was rewarded for his courage with a prime spot in history.
This year, then, instead of just forgetting about Moses the moment the holiday concludes and bread is again on the table, we should spend another moment contemplating his example.
Soon, hopefully, we will all be granted an exodus of our own, out of the apartments and homes where we spent the previous weeks and back outside, to an uncertain new reality, to a long and arduous journey. Many of us, undoubtedly, will be just like the ancient Hebrews, complaining that life is just too darn hard. One of my favorite facts about the biblical story has always been the bit about how so many of Moses’ followers grumbled to him that the exodus was just too hard, and that they would’ve been better off remaining in Egypt. Some people, the Bible teaches us, prefer the certainty of bondage over the risks and rewards of freedom.
As we eventually head back to work, many of us will surely focus on what has been lost. And many will wish to return to the reality they knew before COVID-19 struck, even if that reality was not necessarily rosy. But tap into your inner Moses, and you may find inspiration to turn crisis into an opportunity and build something new and beautiful and long lasting.
Are you feeling insecure? So did the old man. Are you angry with what you feel is an unfair burden? Check and check. Do you sometimes want to shout at God for placing so many needless obstacles in your way? Moses literally did that. And nevertheless, he persisted.
Maybe this recent crisis has left you without work. Maybe it has helped you reflect on your priorities and realize just how dissatisfied you are at your job. Maybe it has awoken some latent spiritual desire to devote more time and energy to helping others. Whatever you feel, whatever it is you’re facing, turning these sentiments into reality is going to be difficult. But Moses reminds us that we all have within us the ability to rise above our circumstances, and that we can all summon the courage to stand before our oppressors, whoever or whatever they might be, and demand freedom.
As Passover winds down, then, let’s not leave Moses’ memory in the cabinet with the Haggadahs and leftover matzos. Let’s follow his lead and imagine a life of liberty, and trust that even the most arduous journey always ends in a promised land.
Marco Greenberg is the author of Primitive: Tapping the Primal Drive that Powers the World’s Most Successful People.