One of the main threads of this weeks parasha is Moshe’s leadership. Ch 12 deals with a challenge to Moshe’s leadership; In Ch 11, the people present a problem of food (Moshe as relief coordinator); In Ch 10, Moshe directs them in the encampment (like a general moving troops); Ch 9 he teaches the people about Passover (Torah) (like a dean or college professor); Ch 8, he organizes the levites, (a modern personnel director). Moshe wore many hats as the leader of Israel and he was the greatest among them.
You may be thinking, ‘what does this have to do with me, I’m not a leader, I’m not a rabbi or congregational leader’. That may be so but you are still a leader by virtue of the fact you are part of the nation of Israel, and specifically the remnant within that nation. You are a priest to the world. People should be looking to us to lead them to G-d, to teach them, to guide them, to show them the truth. That makes you a leader and by looking at Moshe’s life, and the life of the ‘second Moshe’, Yahushua we will understand what true leadership is all about. Let’s look at some basic things that made them great leaders.
First, they had a strong, intimate relationship with G-d. Moshe talked with Him face to face. Yahushua was continually spending long periods of time in prayer. They knew His voice and they took their concerns to Him. Leadership leads to problems and a leader needs to be able to take those problems to his or her ‘Commanding Officer’ and get further instructions. And they can be honest about their problems with G-d. Never disrespectful, but honest. That is a mature relationship with Him.
Second, they were willing to sacrifice for their people. Both Moshe and Sha’ul expressed their willingness to have their names removed from G-d’s book on behalf of Israel. And of course, Yahushua literally made that sacrifice. Most of us won’t have that opportunity but we can sacrifice and be nurturing to those whom G-d brings into our lives. We need to intercede for them and share our gifts with them. Moshe wanted to share his spirit and he shared leadership. We are co-heirs with Messiah, He shares his glory and authority with us. If we take the same attitude, it will enhance our ministry. If leaders don’t it creates real problems. They are constantly suspicious, they feel threatened by other people who may have more expertise or talent or knowledge. We need to have the attitude that everyone has something to contribute to the community and everyone has a part.
Finally, leadership sets the example. Most of the people we know have no idea what a true follower of Messiah looks like. It is our job to show them. What does someone look like who follows Torah as the way of life and doesn’t find it a burden but a joy. What does a righteous person filled with the spirit of G-d look like? As a community we need to define these things and then set the example for all the world. That’s Israel’s job and it is ours. When we follow the examples set by the first and second Moshe, people will see G-d in us and they will rush to us, taking hold of our tzitzit and begging us to lead them to our G-d.
There are several seemingly unrelated events in the aggadic (narrative) portion of our parasha. In chapter eleven and twelve the people begin complaining (again) and G-d promises to give them meat, later bringing quail but not before fire and then plague decimate the people. During this time, Moshe tells YHVH in no uncertain terms that the burden of the people is too much for him and G-d distributes some of the spirit that is on him to the seventy elders. After this, Aaron and Miriam challenge Moshe’s authority with rather nasty results. So what do the complaining, the quail, the wrath of G-d, the spirit on the elders and the challenge to Moshe’s leadership relate to one another?
The thing that ties all this together is it demonstrates the difference between those who have a relationship with G-d, those who know and are known by Him, and those who do not. The people that complained in 11:1 were on the outskirts of the camp. They were not seeking intimacy with G-d, they did not want to know what was going on with Moshe and the leadership, they were not involved in the least. As we all know, it is these armchair quarterbacks that know how to complain about what is going on but have no desire to do any work to make them better. We all know some and we’ve all been one. From the results in 11:1-2, we can see that YHVH does not appreciate such attitudes and actions.
Unfortunately, some people never learn. The people complained about the menu next. They longed for the days in Egypt when they had meat and fish. That which G-d had provided for them in the middle of the desert was not good enough for them. In a way this is a lesson on ‘be careful what you pray for’. They complained and prayed and apparently this was outside of G-d’s plan but He gave them what they wanted. And then he punished them for their insolence and ingratitude. We must watch our attitude about what we have, keeping in mind what Rabbi Sha’ul told us about being content in all circumstance and the teaching of Yahushua which states that our Father knows what we need and will provide it for His children.
Complaining and the attitudes it conjures up are contagious, we all know that, and not even Moshe was immune. He became overwhelmed. He wanted to know where he was going to get meat for all these people. Moshe had been trying to carry the burden alone and that is never YHVH’s intention. The responsibility of all the people was too much for one man. Even in a family there is plurality of leadership and responsibility, but Moshe had become deluded into thinking he carried them all alone. He had lost that intimate connection that made his vision clear.
What is the solution to these very human reactions? G-d solved Moshe’s problem by distributing the burden with other leaders who had the same vision and intimacy with G-d. Now he wouldn’t be overwhelmed, he had others to go to who would help solve the problems that inevitably arise. The ultimate solution is found in Moshe’s desire that the spirit would rest on them all, that they would all have the intimacy with G-d that is the result of prophesy. That every person in the camp would have the vision and the character that intimacy with G-d produces. Then there is no complaining, then there is no uncertainty and everyone works together. That is what the community of G-d is supposed to look like. May we all seek the intimacy with G-d the ruach brings so we may be on the same page with our Creator in all things.
In the middle of this week’s parasha, there are two marks, upside-down nuns, that bracket verses 10:35-36. There are various explanations for this, including the proposition that this represents and entire book of the Torah itself, that there are really seven and not five books of Moshe. Regardless of the explanation, these verses represent a turning point in the life of the nation.
Preceding this break, Israel has begun it’s journey to the promised land. The pattern of the encampment and the order of it’s movement and the tearing down and building of the tabernacle is all accomplished without incident. Everything is going smoothly. It is only eleven days to Eretz Israel. Expectations were higher than we may realize.
When Moshe talks to his father in law about staying with the people, he decides to return to his own land. In his plea, Moshe continually refers to the good things that YHVH will do to Israel and he will benefit from them. What is this good? Some commentators believe that Moshe was referring to the Messianic age. If he would have succeeded in bringing the nations into the land in an ordered and righteous state, they would have achieved their destiny and the messianic age would have dawned. Perhaps Yitro was a prophet and knew what was coming.
Israel journeyed out three days and the cloud rested. From this point on, it all fell apart. First, the people took to seeking complaints. There will always be those who, even when about to be part of something really wonderful, will seek complaints. The journey to greatness is never easy and nothing worth having comes without sacrifice and hardship. Israel’s journey from slavery to the head of the nations was no exception. There were those who did not have the vision to give them the perseverance to accomplish this. Fire consumed them outside the camp, they needed to be cut off before they infected the whole.
Then a new complaint arose, this one specifically an insult to the Almighty. They complained about the food. YHVH had been caring for them and providing their every need since they left Egypt. Now G-d’s provision was not good enough. They longed for the good old days when they were in slavery and they ate their fill. In Egypt they had their basic needs provided for and it required no risk or faith on their part. It was easy in that sense. Freedom entails risk and responsibility. There were many who found that difficult and now they complained. And G-d was angry.
To compound things, Moshe has a crisis of confidence. He complains to G-d about being their leader and how he cannot solve their crisis. He shows himself completely inept at solving this problem. He knows he is unraveling and it’s not good for either him or the nation. But G-d steps in and as the King, solves the problem. The elders are gathered and the plan is proposed. They will have meat and they will have it for a month until they can’t stand the sight of it. The journey is now delayed.
However, a previously strong leader has now been weakened and two incidents demonstrate this. When the elders prophesy in the camp outside of Moshe’s circle of influence, Joshua want’s to restrain them. He sees a threat to Moshe if others are going to prophesy. Soon the people may be following one of these others and Moshe will be cast aside. Uncertainty has set in within Moshe’s inner circle of loyal friends and had Moshe heeded the advice, he would have taken the first step to becoming a despot.
Aaron and Miriam are the next to challenge Moshe. Perhaps up until this time they had looked a Moshe as most of the nation did, with awe and respect. Once they saw the weakness and the others prophesying, they remembered that this guy was only their brother and challenged his authority. However, Moshe had recovered his sense of himself at this point and G-d himself confirmed his preeminent role.
One of the important lessons here is the interaction between leadership and the led. If Moshe would have dealt decisively with the grumbling as he had with the golden calf, they would have been able to move on. Had the people understood the vision of Israel and their destiny, they would not have complained and precipitated the crisis. We have a duty to support our leaders and not burden them unnecessarily because it is often the complaining about the little things that tries their patience and weakens their resolve more than anything. And leaders need to be strong and keep faith so as not to let those in their charge down and derail the destiny of the group.
In this week’s parasha a practical problem comes up. The pesach offering is supposed to be made but the Torah prohibits offering it in a contaminated state. So what does one do when one cannot make the offering at the prescribed time? Without the Torah’s answer what would ours be? Tough luck? Wait until next year? Do it anyway, the offering ‘outweighs’ the contamination? Would we have a clue how to answer the question accurately? They simply went to Moshe and Moshe asked God and they had their answer, wait until the fourteenth of the second month. Simple for them!
At Beit haKadosh, we have a motto much like on the Dodge car commercials-we question everything; and I do mean everything. Just like the Israelites, we have questions, we have situations that come up, we have a desire to reconcile the meaning of Scripture with our everyday reality. Unlike the Israelites, we do not have Moshe, we do not have a prophet, we do not have the ability to just ‘go ask God’. So what do we have? We have religion. And what is religion? It is an intellectual substitute, and a poor one at that, for intimacy with God. Religion is, by nature, exclusive and it puts the search for truth in a straightjacket. It comes up with doctrines and dogmas created by men, that cannot be questioned.
“Religions are divisive and quarrelsome...they are a form of one-upmanship..separating the saved from the damned. They harden into institutions that must command loyalty. Irrevocable commitment to any religion is not only intellectual suicide, it is positive unfaith because it closes the mind to any new vision of the world.”-Alan Watts
Religion relies on converts, it is by nature separatist and it is separation, not seeing all humanity and the universe as echad, that creates conflict, pain, fear and hate. If I see you as separate from me, you become an object to be converted, manipulated or eliminated-I deny your humanity. If we both see ourselves as echad, we will see value, we will love one another as we love ourselves because we are one. We are people that can join hands on the journey of life in search of God, in search of Zion.
It is the journey that is important. When Israel was on the journey, they were inclusive and YHVH continually reminded them to be so. He chided them to treat those not of their bloodline as equals or better. They were all seeking truth, all wanting something better. They all were going to Zion, a metaphor for living in the presence of God much like the description at the end of revelation. Even when Israel reached the land, the physical trip was over but the spiritual had just begun.
The difference between ‘the way’ and religion is that religion, in it’s conversion, says you’ve arrived. Religion, in it’s pride, says ‘this is it, you’re saved, this is all there is and we have it all.’ One on the journey, on the other hand, says ‘We don’t have all the answers, in fact we are not even sure the ones we think we have are right but you are welcome to what I have found and we can join hands and seek together.’ Humility, the lack of ego, these are the marks of one on the journey. They question, respect differences yet see things as echad.
So where are you? Are you in a religion? Do you follow Judaism, look for the answers with the rabbis? Judaism was once a vibrant, experiential religion with freedom and many sects that while differing in their answers were yet united as a people group. That was before they wrote everything down. First there was Mishnah, then Talmud and then death. It is now an exclusionist religion with cultural rituals divorced from their true meaning. Or are you a Christian, following a religion based on false premises, inaccurate history, extreme oversimplification and divisiveness?
Why do so many people follow a religion? Why do they become devoted to a rabbi, a pastor, or a book to the exclusion of all else? I think there are two reasons-laziness and fear. For the lazy-no one can make the spiritual journey for you. Nowhere is there a nice, neatly wrapped set of doctrines and beliefs that will do the work for us, answer all our questions and fulfill us completely. To follow someone or something that claims to give you this is to commit spiritual suicide and deny your value as a person created in God’s image. You are then trying to make yourself in someone else's image. Which brings us to our second reason-fear. We do not value who we are as individuals made in God’s image with his spirit, with a connection to the infinite. We think we lack knowledge, our answers aren’t valid, our questions are stupid. But while echad, we are all unique and what we need is different and we must seek it ourselves because only we know what it is. We can’t sit around and wait for someone to drop it in our lap. Y’shua said each one of us is to ask, seek and knock. This is your life, your journey. Don’t live it through someone else. Learn to enjoy uncertainty. Experience echad. Don’t stand still!
Within this parasha is the story of how Moshe, overworked and underpaid, finally received some help. In chapter eleven, Moshe cries out to God that his burden is too great and God has him gather the seventy elders who receive some of his spirit and prophesy, something he wishes on all of the people. What is this spirit and how can we realize it as Moshe and the elders did?
There are many words in the Bible translated as ‘spirit’ but in our passage, the word is the familiar ‘ruach’. It is translated numerous ways including wind and presence in addition to spirit. Although we hear the word ‘spirit’ and think of something ethereal and otherworldly, something that is the opposite of our physical world, that is just our dualistic western minds at work again. The Hebrews were concrete thinkers. Ruach is wind, it is air, it is breath. The first time it appears in the Bible it is the ‘wind of Elohim’ that moved above the waters. It is a force in the natural world that can be beneficial or destructive and it can be harnessed by men for our own benefit or detriment. In Genesis six, mankind was opposing the wind of God, the natural order, and such a situation could not last forever. Moshe had harnessed the wind of God and exercised great power with it. He used the ruach to bring locusts to Egypt and divide the sea. Moshe knew and understood the wind and could make himself at one with it.
The wind is everywhere and we are within it wherever we are. We can insulate ourselves from it so we can no longer hear it or feel it. We can fight against it and wear ourselves out or we can raise our sails and go where it takes us. In the first case we close ourselves off to the spirit by living only within our minds, using reason and logic and that which we can see to guide us. But as we learned last week, the mind/heart (lev) is deceitful above all things. Our perception of things, our eyes, cannot always be trusted. By closing ourselves off from the wind we are living in a glass house with no experience of reality. It is like living through the imaginary world we see on TV. It feeds the eyes and mind but it is not real.
The second are those that live in reality but move against the power of the wind. The wind is the natural order of things, it is the law of the universe, it is the way things are. If we choose, we can ignore those laws. If we try to ignore gravity, it is still going to affect us, in this case negatively. If we ignore the moral laws of marriage and sexuality we destroy relationships and could end up with some deadly disease. The wind has no consciousness just as the law of the universe has none, it is simple cause and effect.
In our parasha the people of Israel were constantly opposing Moshe, thinking that they knew best. They could not see the cause and effect. They could not see the negative effects slavery had on them, how their minds were corrupted and their ability to attune to the spirit negated. Egypt they understood, it was logical and consistent, all the things the wind was not. Moshe learned to hear the wind, to flow with it, it use it while he was in the desert far from Egypt. The mind was not something he needed to rely on as a nomad, it was intuition, it was attentiveness to his surroundings, it was the feeling of the wind and what it would bring. The wind he was following would take them to Eretz Yisrael, something the people did not see. The wind he listened to would create a just and prosperous society. The seventy elders tasted of it, Joshua knew it but most of the people did not and that is why they got themselves into so much trouble all the time.