CHUKAT – Numbers 19:1 – 22:1
In the Torah there are two great songs recorded for us. The first is when Moses and the children of Israel, newly set free from bondage, sang their exuberant praise after the splitting of the Sea.
The second song, albeit less well known, is actually tucked away near the end of this week’s Torah reading. It is a relatively brief song, giving thanks to the God of Israel for uninterrupted supply of water He provided throughout their forty years in the desert.
“Then Israel sang this song; ‘Come up, O well, announce it! Well that the princes dug, that the nobles of the people excavated, through a lawgiver, with their staff. A gift from the Wilderness.”
The song continues by rehearsing the path of the water (which actually came from a well) that travelled with the nation, no matter how high the elevation or difficult the terrain – a major Exodus miracle.
As they sang, Israel gave testimony to their appreciation of God’s provision of water throughout those four decades for they understood that without His supply they would not have survived. The song is akin to a “Thank You” note, like a bride might tuck under her parents’ pillows before she leaves home for her wedding.
It’s a precious thing for the people to do but wait a minute! Notice: Moses isn’t singing. Just the people are. Why?
One suggestion is that as the people sang, he was painfully reminded of his disobedience in the matter of water which will soon deprive him of following the congregation into the Land of Promise. That would have been a very painful memory and realization and could well have kept him from joining into the singing.
Another insight is more positive and calls our attention to the actual moment this was happening.
The Song at the Sea was sung some 40 years earlier at the very beginning of the children of Israel’s long journey. The Land of Promise was but a dream then. During those forty years, Moses had taught the people many lessons, rebuked them when they needed it, comforted them and encouraged them when they were disconsolate. Some of the lessons had to be repeated, but now, forty years later, many of those lessons had finally taken root in their hearts. Their slave mentality no longer ruled; this was the new generation. After hardships and triumphs, having absorbed the lessons of Sinai, it was time for this fledgling nation to step up to its destiny. It was, if you will, “graduation” time.
It was the moment that Moses had longed to see and as any parent or teacher would, it was understandable for him to sit back and watch them sing, a sense of pride welling up in his heart along with the hope that the future they were about to embrace would bring blessings abundant and consistent.
I think it would have been easy for Moses to sing along with them; to get out front and lead the singing — lead as he had for forty years. But there comes a time in every parent’s life to take a step or two back and set one’s offspring free, trusting that all the education, all the training, all the imparting will not have been in vain.
Therefore, I suggest that the omission of Moses’ name at this event sends a very positive message.
Moses, the archetypal Jewish parent and teacher, has shown us how to raise children and teach students. Now it’s time to sit and smile! The song he listens to is not a nostalgic repetition of 40 years ago; it’s a brand new song; it’s a song that could never have been composed without his faithful leadership, guidance, teaching and training all through those forty years.
He has fulfilled his mission – he is able to sit back and enjoy the melody.
In Tune with Torah this week = knowing when to let go of a child is often a parent’s hardest task. But letting go is not just a matter for parents and children. Moses had to let go of much more – regrets, memories both pleasant and unpleasant, etc. What are we holding onto right now that we really need to let go? Hurts? Resentments? Troublesome memories? Let go is the message of this Shabbat.