This week’s portion swells with challenges. Aaron and Miriam confront Moses on his leadership, there is meat for the people in the midst of the WIlderness and Moses marries (12) the Cushte woman. There is the now usual series of passages that speak to the Tabernacle (8) and the institution of Pesach Sheini (9), or the second Passover. In chapter 11, as the Israelites commence their trek, we again meet a stiff-necked and complaining people. Moses and his leadership are threatened; an oft repeated theme.
The multitude complained, the “rif-raf” were angry (11) as they reflected again on their Egyptian experience when they remembered the meat and fish. Hindsight may be 20-20, or it may be a product of self delusion. One of the most dramatic verses in Torah ([11:14], 15) is found in the midst of Moses trying to handle these complaints. Moses cries out to God that he cannot continue like this, “it is too much for me. If You would deal thusly with me, kill me rather , I beg You, and let me see no more of my wretchedness”. Immediately God provides a solution as he commands Moses to “gather for Me 70 of Israel’s elders of whom you have experience as elders and officers of the people” ([11:16]) Sometimes, life becomes overwhelming, more than, it seems, we can handle. Torah’s answer is that you are not alone. Gather together some people who have walked this walk, ask for their advice, make use of their experience. This is a great passage for us. So much of society seems to discount the life experience of elders. We still live in a culture that prizes youth. Torah is telling us that to seek the advice of people who have “walked the walk” lessens the burden, shares the challenge and can be liberating. We met a similar call way back in Parasha Yitro.
Leadership often requires a sense of humility, an understanding of when it is Ok to seek help. Indeed, not only in leadership issues, but we see the same in caregiving concerns; sometimes it is the right thing to do to ask for help. Life’s challenges are often too overwhelming to be faced alone. Judaism is a religious civiliation that is based on the power of community and the ability to reach out to that community for help when needed is a mark of strength, not weakness.
Moses in this portion, as before, seeks good advice from his elders. Experience does count and a lesson here is to value that experience. Life experience is a great teacher. It is to be used to help guide a decision maker, a community and needs to be tempered with the life realities of the day. By matching the two, reality and experience, progress can be achieved. We are never too old to embrace this duality, an appreciation of where we have come from and an embrace of where we are in order to create a more viable tomorrow.
Rabbi Richard F Address