B’haalot’cha: Life Experience in an “Instant” Society

David's Star (Patrick Lentz photo via Flickr.com, Creative Commons license.)
David's Star (Patrick Lentz photo via Flickr.com, Creative Commons license.)

The Torah portion for the coming Shabbat, June 1 and 2, continues our path through the wilderness. Rituals associated with the Tabernacle and the priesthood (Numbers 8) and an additional census are recounted. Aspects of community organization for military action, the presence of the cloud and the fire signifying God’s presence are detailed, as well as references to sacrifices associated with Passover (9 and 10). Also, in one of the more famous passages, (12:1-13) we read of Aaron and Miriam chastising Moses over his marriage to the “Cushite” woman. Miriam is made to suffer with “snow white scales”. Moses pleads with God to heal her and utters, what many consider our first healing prayer in 12.13: “el na r’fah na la”: “God heal her”.
But let me note the verses from 11:16f which speak to another instance of Moses being frustrated by the people after the manna incident. Moses, perhaps showing growing frustration as the challenges of leadership mount, declares his frustration and confronts God by saying that the task has become too much for him and if this is the way things are, better he should die. God’s response is to ask Moses to bring together 70 elders. This little incident speaks much to our present world. So often we are faced with the cult of youth. In so many congregations, elders are ignored or patronized (or considered the source for more funds) rather than being honored for their life experience. So few congregation develop inter-generational mentoring programs, or celebrate the acquisition of wisdom via a “simchat hochmah” ritual on the pulpit. There is a benefit to seeking counsel from people who have lived life and may have the benefit of living history. The so-called “institutional memory” is real. Yes, it needs to be looked at so we do not fall prey to the cult of “we used to do it this way”, a response that often is code language for no action or creativity at all. Yet, in the passage int he Torah, God’s spirit is shared between Moses and these elders, as if to say, we can bring together this group and have the same spirit of creativity and challenge present in them as with Moses. Judaism has survived by adapting our past to the realities of a present. In a culture that seems of idolize the new, it is a mistake to throw out, discard or ignore the wisdom of the old. To share the spirit of growth and creativity is to engage all people. The aging baby boom generation has much to share, to tell and to offer to the next generations. To ignore that life experience is, I suggest, a disadvantage to everyone.
Shabbat shalom
Rabbi Richard F Address

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