A Taste of Limmud
The vacation season has arrived and many will hit the road. In days past, it would have been tempting to bicker over a wrong turn or missing a crucial exit. Today we are lucky to have the foolproof technology of a GPS to guide us.
Parashat Beha’alot’cha provides the Children of Israel with their GPS and presents us with a microcosm of the spiritual roadmap that is Torah. We read a seemingly chaotic text which brims with a large number of events. Our weekly reading starts out with instructions for the Menorah, then describes the duties of the Levites, only to follow with offering the second chance of ‘Pesach Sheni’. Then the narrative informs us of the guidance of the ‘Anan’, the Cloud of Glory which rests over the Tabernacle, the spiritual compass of the Israelite community. Further on, it mentions the construction of silver trumpets to organise the community, and Moses’ management crash course instructing him to delegate seventy elders to help him.
The common thread through all these disparate themes is that of order, preparedness and vision. The Exodus is a momentous task of shattering logistical proportions in need of firm guidance. We are told how to instate the Levitical class that they may bless Israel, how the chieftains move their tribes efficiently under the blast of silver trumpets and how Moses learns to delegate.
However, this is not a mere list of management tips. The real power of the narrative lies in its fragments of real life events. The ability to lead depends also on the vision to put a contingency plan in place. Real life happens with real people, real problems and real grievances. This is also the parashah where the Children of Israel, craving meat, whine bitterly, foolishly waxing nostalgic for Egyptian slavery. We read how Aaron and Miriam challenge Moses’ authority. There are plagues, despair and death. Yet effective leadership depends on the ability to acknowledge when to step up or to step down. Moses allows two young men, Eldad and Medad, to prophesy among the community, inspiring the weathered and worn Israelites. Moses notes, in defiance of Aaron’s qualms, that ‘if only all God’s people were prophets’. Likewise, it is the people themselves who ordain the Levites by laying their hands upon the members of the priestly tribe. These are the seedlings of democracy and solidarity sprouting in the fertile soil of vision. A contingency plan allows the community to face the challenges ahead: the impending fearful reports of the scouts and the disappointment of being forced to wander in the wilderness for forty more years. Yet we know that the Promised Land awaits.
These future successes are made possible through the roadmap that this parashah provides. Order, preparedness and vision. But also the ability to step down, acknowledge grievances, to forgive and give second chances and a communal spirit of solidarity. It is this combination of steadfastness and flexibility that provides the Jewish people the survival skills for all their journeys to come. The Torah is a foolproof GPS system indeed.