Parashat Behaalotecha – Erev Shabbat 10 June 2022
Week of 5-11 June, 2022
Torah portion: Numbers 8:1-12:16 Haftarah: Zachariah 2:14-4:7
Theme: God’s Love and Call of Moses
One could certainly call this Torah portion an exposé of Moses’ character, call and mission. In calling Moses, God wanted him for a special mission of bringing the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses’ reply was a question, “Who am I to lead?” (Ex. 3:11) The difficulty was all about this request and that Moses felt he could accept this entreaty only when God revealed his Name and promised, “I will be with you” (Ex. 3:12)
Throughout the sojourn in the desert, Moses met with opposition at every turn. It was his father-in-law, Jethro, who realized that the burden was beyond Moses’ strength and felt obliged to speak to him. Like most leaders, Moses felt that he was able to do the job but had not realized at what cost! The people’s constant complaining and ingratitude finally got to him and he saw himself as a failure. “His mission was to help the Israelites create a society that would be the opposite of Egypt, that would liberate instead of oppress; dignify, and not enslave.” (Sacks 190) He knew he could not continue in this manner. It was his lowest moment: despairing, he implored God, “Why have you dealt ill with your servant?” (11:11-15) His inspiration, focus and strength were gone. God answered him, showing him a new and different way to continue. In delegating his authority to 70 elders, Moses was now not alone; instead he had been enabled to share the responsibility and hardship in leading this people. God, the comforter lifted Moses out of his despair. The sages wisely said, “A prisoner cannot release himself from prison.” (Berakhot 5b, Sacks 190)
According to Rabbi Sacks there are two types of leadership: one is a technical one; and the other is an adaptive leadership. As recorded in Exodus, Moses exercised a technical leadership. Whenever there was a problem, he spoke with God and was provided with a solution. Adaptive leadership arises when the people work together on both the problem and the solution, thus exercising responsibility and ownership.
The Israelites had actually experienced two distinct parts in their desert sojourn. Leaving Egypt, they were traveling from whereas after their commitment at Sinai, they were traveling to the Promised Land. In Egypt they knew only oppression and in desperation cried out to God. Such endured trauma had left scars. It would take both a change of attitude and sufficient time to overcome this slave mentality. A new generation was needed to develop a vision and to experience freedom in a new context.
Not only was Moses subject to the people’s complaints but he also endured a betrayal from those closest to him, his own siblings (12:1-9). His sole reaction to their slanderous words was a prayer for Miriam, “O God, pray heal her!” (12:13) Moses was a humble man (12:3) and very insightful when he declared, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets!” (11:29)
Being their guide and teacher, Moses was the one who spoke directly to God as a friend. Indeed, God had a special love for his servant, Moses. A strong figure, a true leader, Moses inspired and cared for the Israelites in their desert sojourn for 40 years. In summary, “Moses’ response, however, shows that he is a leader not feeding his own ego but serving God’s needs and the needs of God’s people.” (Hayim 831) Reflection: What kind of leader are you? Have you experienced its challenges and its burdens? Bibliography: Etz Hayim, Torah & Commentary, (The Jewish Publication Society, Brooklyn, N.Y.: 1985) Sacks, J., Studies in Spirituality, (Estate of Jonathan Sacks, Koren Publishers, Jerusalem: 2021)
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Rita Kammermayer, Canada, Bat Kol Alumna 2001