This week’s parsha has a lot going on. Moses has trouble reading the Ikea instructions on his new Menorah. The Jewish people finally leave Mount Sinai (after a year) but decide they’re getting sick of the meal plan. And Miriam says something she wishes she could take back and gets a really bad rash for it. In the midst of all of it, this week for some reason, Moses decides, “It is too much for me.”
What’s Buggin’ Moses?
So when it’s time to pack up and leave Sinai, suddenly the Jews decide they miss the fish and the garlic and the onions they used to eat in Egypt. And this isn’t quiet murmuring. Their complaints are so big that it that stops their travel and Moses actually has to deal with it.
The Children of Israel (Bnei Yisroel) have sinned plenty of times before and every time Moses has gone to bat for them. At one point God even says to Moses that He’d wipe them all out and make Moses the new father of the nation. Moses replies, If you’re going to do that, take me out of your Torah. But here, this time, Moses says, “I can’t handle them anymore alone.” What’s different?
Imagine it’s your last day of school. Ever. You’re going to walk at your graduation in 3 days. But for some reason you’re fixated on the fact that there are no Chipotles around you can’t get a good burrito! If that’s what you’re focused on, something is definitely wrong. The Jewish people were about to enter the Land of Israel. They had survived slavery, walked through parted waters, been in the presence of God, built the Mishkan, and were finally about to complete their journey. But when Moses walked around the camps, he didn’t see excitement, he didn’t see anticipation. He saw people crying at their doors.
Where before the sins (worshiping Golden Calf, despair before the splitting of the sea, etc.) were mistakes and lapses in belief, the sin this time was poor middos (character traits). Moses is thinking, If after a year of learning from me here at Sinai where I’m learning directly from God, I can’t change these people… Ugh! I can’t do this anymore. To correct a mistake is one thing. But to correct the deeply embedded characters takes years to move an inch. And Moses saw how little he had actually progressed and he despaired.
God answers Moses’ cry with 70 helpers and bestows upon them prophesy. But then the Torah names two helpers for some reason.
Two men remained behind in the camp, the name of one was Eldad and the name of the second was Medad, and the spirit rested upon them… and they prophesied in the camp. (Bamidbar 11:26)
What prophesy did Eldad and Medad have? The Rabbis say that they saw that Moses will die in the desert and that Joshua will bring Bnei Yisroel into the land of Israel. Now it is true that Moses will have to die in the desert. But the event that causes that judgement doesn’t happen for a few chapters (parshas Chukas – Moses hitting the rock). Why are Eldad and Medad getting that prophesy now?
Prophesy is a reaction to what is going on. If someone gets a prophesy of, God forbid, you getting hit by a car, it’s not because God just decided to hit you with a car. There’s something you’re are doing currently that is going to lead to you getting hit by a car. Maybe you’re texting while you’re driving. Maybe you are too consumed with your job, so one day something will happen at work and you’re going to be so frustrated about it that on your drive home you’re distracted and you crash. You don’t know what will cause the misfortune, but that’s why part of the prophet’s job is to interpret said prophesy. Their job was to tell you what your bad character traits were so you could avoid the disaster those bad traits would lead to.
So even though Moses hadn’t struck the rock yet, he was certainly headed in that direction and Eldad and Medad could see it.
So why is asking for help such a disastrous act for Moses? Shouldn’t we ask for help when we need it? Rabbi Noach Weinberg answers this with an interesting perspective.
Let’s say you go into a restaurant. How can you identify the owner or the manager? Is it the guy in the nicer shirt? Perhaps the woman going around from table to table schmoozing with guests? Maybe. But wait for a disaster to happen. The person who springs into action to fix the problem… that’s the owner!
We all know “With great power comes great responsibility.” But what does that responsibility lead to? Ownership. Moses decided that he could no longer take sole responsibility for the Jewish people. And because of that he would not be the one to lead them into the land of Israel. Joshua would be the one to take up that mantle.
Hashem has given us this planet to rule over. But that doesn’t mean that we can do whatever we want with it. It means we are supposed to take ownership for it. Be responsible for it. When we see something wrong in the world we aren’t supposed to say “Eh, that’s a shame. But what are you gonna do?” You’re supposed to see that problem as your problem and do everything in your power to fix it. Claim responsibility for making it happen. Make sure it gets fixed. Take ownership.
Ben hit the nail on the head. Our society (and of course Andy Samberg) make a parody of what it means “to be a boss.” But what it really means is “to take responsibility.” That is actually the epitome of a GOOD boss; one that does not place blame on others and one that cares what is happening and does something about it. We only act on things (especially things that are discomforting/challenging which are the most important/meaningful things anyways) when we truly OWN them. As Rabbi Denbo says, “the farthest distance between two points is between the head and the heart.” We have to make people, situations, our own issues real to us and a top priority or they will end up on the back burner like most things.
Great post Ben! Thanks for the inspiration and clarity into the parsha.
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Those are some cool looking Israelis! Kinda wish we had some cool styles like that! 🙂