Weekly Torah Commentary – Va-eira January 12, 2018

Torah reading:  Exodus 6:2 – 9:35

Haftorah reading: Ezekiel 28:25 – 29:21

When Pharaoh shall speak to you, saying ‘Work a miracle, then, you shall say to Aaron, Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh, that it may become a serpent. So Moses and Aaron came to Pharaoh, and they did just as the Lord had commanded: and Aaron threw his staff down before Pharaoh, and his servants, and it became a serpent.” Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: and the magicians of Egypt did the same with their enchantments for they threw down their staffs, and they became serpents; but Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. Exodus 7: 8-12

MosesAaron

This is one of the most interesting passages in the Torah. It opens our eyes to several deep spiritual truths and exposes certain things to us that may not be very clear to the way we moderns think.

There are only two major sources of spiritual power: The power of God and the power of evil.  Yes, my friends, there is Evil and it exists because of demonic forces at work in the world. From days of old, Satan has sought to mimic whatever God does.  That agenda was born in him when as the prophet Isaiah tells us, Satan sought to make himself equal with God.  The result was that he was thrown out of the heavens, out of God’s presence. (see Isaiah 14:12 – 20)

In this scripture passage we see two servants of the Holy One of Israel, a pagan ruler and his ‘magicians’.  By tapping into evil power, the magicians mimicked what Aaron did.  But realize this: the magicians’ power was severely limited.  Their serpents were quickly swallowed up by Aaron’s!  Pharaoh had several magicians so there were several snakes, but Aaron’s serpent did away with them in a moment. When a weaker power comes against a stronger power, the weaker power must of necessity bow to greater strength.

More than once in the Scriptures we see serpent against serpent: When serpents were biting the Israelites in the wilderness and Moses cried to the Lord, the solution was another serpent. God uses the coin of the enemy to pay back the enemy.

 

Spiritual warfare is not entertainment: It is real war.  The contest of the serpents was a violent one, ending in utter destruction of the magicians’ serpents.  Elijah dealings with the 850 prophets of Baal was no less violent. These two events among others in the Scriptures teach us that political correctness does not work with enemies of the most High God!

To accurately assess world conditions and international events we must be aware that there are spiritual forces at work in the world.  A great war between good and evil was launched centuries ago and continues to this day.  In the midst of this war we are too often ignorant of what the real issues are.  Instead of recognizing the implications of the contest between Moses and Aaron versus the magicians of Pharaoh, we stand and watch as if it were entertainment instead of warfare.

Mankind was created for one purpose: to know God and to enjoy fellowship with Him eternally.  Each of us has been given a span of years during which we are to learn about Him, come to know Him personally and live our days according to His principles and commandments.  The ‘sons of light’ and the ‘sons of darkness’ perspective of the Essenes in the first century addresses this clearly.

Life is made up of varying experiences.  We prefer the joys and blessings that come our way and if we could, would avoid life’s hardships, challenges and sorrows. However, a necessary part of life is its battles for it is through them that we gain maturity, wisdom and a closer relationship with our God, provided we make godly decisions in the midst of the battlefields of daily living.

In Tune with Torah this week = Thankfully, we know from the Torah and the Prophets that the Holy One of Israel triumphs. Knowing that the God we serve has secured the final triumph, it behooves us to live in such a way that our faith in His eternal victory is evident and guides our decision-making on a day to day basis.

Shabbat Shalom

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Korah July 8, 2016

Numbers 16 – 18

Enter the consummate politician!  In the Torah? Yes, in the Torah.

Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben took action, and they rose up before Moses together with some of the sons of Israel, two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, chosen in the assembly, men of renown.  Num. 16: 1-2

Very often, we have read these chapters without realizing that there is not one rebellion happening, but two.  Notice: Korah is a Levite (from the tribe of Levi).  Dathan, Abiram and On are from the tribe of Reuben.  In the arrangement of the tribes around the Tabernacle in the wilderness, each tribe had its ‘neighborhood’.  The Levites were camped by the door of the Tabernacle while the other tribes encircled the larger area.

camp

First, we are presented with Korah’s challenge to Moses and Aaron:

You have gone far enough for all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is in their midst.  Why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?

The Levites were the only ones who had permission to transport the Ark of the Covenant; they were the only ones allowed to set up and break down the Tabernacle in the wilderness.  Of the thirteen tribes of Israel, God chose only one tribe out to draw near to Him in that special way.  Korah was privileged to be a Levite but he wasn’t satisfied.  He wanted more power; he wanted the leadership position that Aaron had so he issues this ultimatum to Moses and Aaron.

Moses response was first to fall on his face before God and then he instructed Korah and the 250 with him to put fire in their censers and gather the following morning  at the entrance of the Tabernacle.  God will demonstrate, Moses declared, who is holy. (vs. 6-7)

Meanwhile ‘Moses sent for Dathan and Abiram‘ so obviously they were not present with Korach and the 250 Levites.  Dathan and Abiram refuse to come but convey their complaint against Moses:

Is it not enough that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to have us die in the wilderness, but you would also lord it over us? Indeed you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor have you given us an inheritance of fields and vineyards. Would you put out the eyes of these men? We will not come to you. (vs.13-14)

Do you see the difference?

Korah wanted power, pre-eminence, leadership over the people.

Dathan and Abiram were angry that Moses had not yet taken them into the Land.

Korah had a spiritual complaint.  Dathan and Abiram had a political complaint.

But though their focus was different, Korah somehow managed to take the leadership of both groups. He ‘worked the crowd’ as it were – back and forth between both groups of rebels, building a case against Moses and Aaron.  God was watching.

The next morning, the crowd of Levites assembles.  God commanded Moses to get away from the ‘tent’ of Korah, Dathan and Abiram.  Now this is interesting. Your translation may say the ‘dwelling’ of Korah, Dathan and Abiram.  But we’ve already noted that they didn’t live together. So what does this mean?

It’s clearer in the Hebrew.  It was the ‘meeting place’ of Koran, Dathan and Abiram; a place where they met to develop their scheme to seize power from Moses, the priesthood from Aaron and then march on into the Land under the leadership of Korah.  You realize, of course, that no one organizes a rebellion with 250 adherents overnight.  This had been brewing for some time.

Notice: in vs. 24 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the congregation, saying, ‘Get back from around the meeting place of Korah, Dathan and Abiram.’ But the very next verse says, ‘Then Moses arose and went to Dathan and Abiram with the elders of Israel following him.’

If Moses had to get up and go find them, then Dathan and Abiram were not present with Korah and the 250! As Moses approaches that meeting place, God commands the people to get away from the ‘tent’ of these wicked men.    Look what happened:  vs. 32 ..and the earth swallowed them up and their households, and all the men who belonged to Korah with their possessions.

Now that would put the fear of the Lord in you, wouldn’t it?

Remember, this crowd is gathered with Dathan and Abiram by the meeting place of Korah, Dathan and Abiram, not at the entrance of the Tabernacle where Korah is, with his 250 followers.  Yet those who joined in with Dathan and Abiram’s complaint are called ‘the men who belonged to Korah’, indicating that the two companies of grumblers were united under the leadership of Korah.

Meanwhile, back at the entrance of the Tabernacle, ‘fire came forth from the Lord and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who were offering the incense.’ (vs. 35)

Two complaints – two different punishments – one overall leader. What was Korah’s real sin?

He was a consummate manipulator of people to pursue his own agenda.  Whatever it took to gain power, that’s what he would do.  The substance of the complaints was secondary to his egotistical goal.

Some of the Levites, including himself, wanted to be priests instead of Aaron and his sons – a religious issue. Fine, Korah massaged their frustration with his own.

The Dathan and Abiram crowd wanted political leadership to get them out of the desert and into the Promised Land right now with no more waiting.  Fine, Korah latched onto their discontent, met with them, gained their allegiance and formulated a plan to challenge the divine mandate God had given to Moses and Aaron.

He forgot…or refused to acknowledge…that it was GOD who appointed Moses and Aaron.

He forgot…or refused to acknowledge…that it was GOD who delivered the people from Egypt, not Moses and Aaron.

He forgot…or refused to acknowledge…that it was GOD who decreed the prolonged stay in the desert because of the rebellion of the people, not Moses and Aaron.

He failed to realize that his fight was not with Moses and Aaron but with God Himself.

The root of his problem goes back to the Garden of Eden.  Adam and Eve sinned because they wanted more than the incredible abundance God had already given them.  Korah made the same mistake. Korah was born into the tribe of Levi.  That, in itself, was a great privilege and accorded him special privileges among God’s people.  But he didn’t think that was good enough.  Like Esau, Korah despised his birthright and wanted what was not his to have.  The result was tragic, not just for him but for hundreds of others.

One last curious fact: notice that Korah and his 250 companions were in front of the Tabernacle with their fire pans, so there were 251 Levites there.  The text says that fire came out of heaven and consumed the 250.  Which one of those 251 was spared?? Let me know what you think below.

In Tune with Torah this week = God created you with your own unique destiny and sent you to this earth with your own unique purpose. The human tendency to compare oneself with others, to want what they have, not just materially, but in talents, skills and opportunities is a base drive that must be disciplined if we are to live a peaceful and productive life.  Korah’s story challenges us to accept God’s plan for us with gratitude and joy, to live it out with enthusiasm and to refuse any jealousy or envy that tries to take root in our souls.

Shabbat Shalom

Don’t forget to leave a comment – and your idea of which one of the 251 Levites was not consumed by fire.

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Naso June 17, 2016

Note: At present, the Torah readings within Israel are different from those outside Israel.  This will continue for a short time and is due to the way the holidays fell this spring on the Hebrew calendar.  Since most of my readers are in countries outside Israel, I am following that schedule for the commentaries.

Numbers 4:21 – 7:89 

In this week’s Torah portion we are introduced to the Aaronic blessing.

Blessing

“Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace. So they shall invoke My name on the sons of Israel and I then will bless them.”  (Num. 6:23–27).

Many of you may be familiar with this blessing but did you notice the last verse?  We call it the Priestly blessing or the Aaronic blessing. In reality, it is God’s blessing on His people delivered through the priestly line.  ‘…I then will bless them…’

Our words have great influence in the lives of those around us, and spoken blessings can bring hope, encouragement, and direction to others. I believe that our society is sorely lacking in the art of blessing others.  This practice alone could have a powerful impact on the ills of our world.

A spoken blessing is a positive, Biblical statement that invokes the blessing of God in the life of another.  Our words have potential to do good or to do harm. The Bible speaks directly about the power of our words in verses such as these:

  • “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof” (Proverbs 18:21).
  • “Pleasant words are as a honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24).
  • “Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop: but a good word maketh it glad” (Proverbs 12:25).

While the blessing of the congregation of Israel was a task bestowed on the priestly line, it is also a template for how we can bless other people. I believe that cultivating an attitude of blessing is far more important than we realize. Sadly, cursing other people has become much more common than blessing them. To curse is to call evil or injury down on someone; to wish them harm or misfortune.  It is the very opposite of blessing. And our choice in life is to bless or to curse, to call forth goodness or to call down evil.

This choice goes beyond a formula of words for the choice between blessing or cursing someone else is a matter of the heart.  Whichever way we choose, we are unveiling the state of our inner being.  If we bless, we are living according to the commandment ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  If we curse others, we reveal a dark and sinister heart attitude.

The priestly blessing recorded in Numbers 6:24–26 provides us with an excellent example of a Godly blessing: “The Lord bless you, and keep [guard, protect, compass about with a hedge of safety] you: The Lord make his face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you: The Lord lift up his countenance [give full attention in a favorable way] upon you, and give you peace [wholeness, health, security, serenity, well-being, contentment, harmony; an absence of negative stress, disturbance, tension, and conflict].”

One of the most worthwhile habits you could cultivate is the habit of blessing which includes but is not limited to:

thinking the best of others, instead of being critical and/or judgmental

looking for the good in others, instead of focusing on their weaknesses or failures

having their best interests at heart instead of thinking just of yourself

celebrating others’ successes and good fortune without resentment or jealousy

By developing the habit of blessing others with my words, I reap the benefit of gradually creating a positive, inspiring and godly character.

Years ago I knew a young woman who was competing for the title of Miss Teenage America.  In the interview portion of the competition, she was asked this question by one of the judges:  If you could choose, would you rather be a baseball or a baseball bat?

Without hesitation, she replied, “I’d choose to be the baseball bat so I could propel someone else to achieve success.”

That reply won her the title.

In Tune with Torah this week = have you blessed anyone lately? Whether in your own mind or aloud, have you spoken the blessings of God into anyone else’s life?  It could be as simple as this: you see someone driving recklessly.  Choose: will you say, ‘Dear God, grant him wisdom and help him get to his destination safely’?

Or will you sit back and criticize (a form of cursing)?

The choice is yours.

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Ki Tisa Feb. 26, 2016

Exodus 30:11-34:35

This week’s Torah reading teaches a strong lesson leadership.

leadership

Leadership failures occur for one of two reasons.  The first often has to do with timing.  The individual may read the situation incorrectly.  He or she may move out too soon or too late and failure follows. Sometimes despite your best efforts, you fail and must turn to God to profit from your failure by learning the lesson contained therein.

The second reason leaders fail is internal. A leader can simply lack the courage necessary for successful leadership: the ability to avoid being a crowd-pleaser, the ability to say ‘No’ when everyone else is shouting ‘Yes’. That can be daunting, even terrifying. Crowds have a momentum of their own. To say ‘No’ whenever those around you are pressuring you to say ‘yes’ carries severe risk. You may lose your job, be publicly humiliated and in extreme cases, even lose your life. That is when courage is needed, and the lack thereof constitutes a moral failure of the worst kind.

That is precisely what we encounter in this week’s Torah reading. Moses had been up the mountain for forty days. The people got nervous. Had he died? Where was he? He was their connection with God, their mediator. This is how the Torah describes what happened next:

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered round Aaron and said, ‘Come, make us a god who will go before us. As for this man Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’ Aaron answered them, ‘Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.’ So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and he fashioned it with a tool and made it into a molten calf. Then they said, ‘This is your god, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’ (Ex. 32:1-4)

Understandably,God became angry. Moses pleaded with Him to spare the people.

Coming down the mountain and seeing what happened, Moses smashed the tablets of the Torah which he had brought down with him, burned the idol, ground it to powder, mixed it with water and made the Israelites drink it.

Then he turned to Aaron his brother and his ‘deputy’ and said, “What have you done?”

“Do not be angry, my lord,” Aaron answered.  “You know how prone these people are to evil.  They said to me, ‘Make us a god who will go before us.  As for this man Moses, who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’ So I told them, ‘Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.’ Then they gave me the gold and I threw it into the fire and out came this calf!”  Exod. 32:22-24

Aaron blamed the people and denied responsibility for making the calf. It just ‘happened’, he claimed. This is the same kind of denial of responsibility we recall from the story of Adam and Eve. The man says, “It was the woman.” The woman says, “It was the serpent.” It happened. It wasn’t me. I was the victim not the perpetrator.  Evasion of responsibility is a moral failure in anyone but especially in a leader.

It is curious that Aaron was not immediately punished.  It wasn’t until years later when he and Moses spoke angrily against the people for their complaining that God declared, “Aaron with be gathered to his people.  He will not enter the Land..”  Num. 20:24

And it wasn’t until the last month of Moses’ life that he finally confessed a fact he’d kept from the people all those years:    I feared the anger and wrath of the Lord, for he was angry enough with you to destroy you. But again the Lord listened to me. And the Lord was angry enough with Aaron to destroy him, but at that time I prayed for Aaron too. (Deut. 9:19-20)

According to Moses, God was so angry with Aaron for the sin of the golden calf that He was about to kill him, and would have done so had it not been for Moses’ prayer.

It is so easy to be critical of people who fail the leadership test when it involves opposing the crowd, defying the consensus, blocking the path the majority are intent on taking. The truth is that it is hard to oppose the mob. They can ignore you, remove you, even assassinate you.

Moses had a real mess on his hands!  He destroyed the calf, then asked for support and his fellow Levites rose to the occasion. They killed the three thousand rebels who had instigated the whole thing.  The Israelites at the foot of the mountain didn’t realize how close they had come to being utterly destroyed.

Mercifully, there is more than one kind of leadership.  From a different perspective, Aaron is recognized as a man of peace, a quality dearly needed by a High Priest which was his calling.  The priesthood involves following rules, not taking stands and swaying crowds. The fact that Aaron was not a leader in the same type as Moses does not mean that he was a total failure. It means that he was created for a different kind of role.

There are times when you need someone with the courage to stand against the crowd, but there are other times when a peacemaker is needed. Moses and Aaron were different types. Aaron failed when he was called on to be a Moses, but he became a great leader when he stood in his own calling. Aaron and Moses complemented each other. No one person can do everything.

In Tune with Torah this week = each person will be the happiest and most effective when operating in their own calling, according to the gifts and talents which God planted in them.  To envy another’s position is ultimate folly.  You wouldn’t succeed there if it’s not your place!  Embrace your purpose and calling in life and respect the ‘other’.  This is a key to unity in any body of people.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – Tetzaveh Feb. 19, 2016

Exodus 27:20 – 30:10

This week’s reading continues with the instructions regarding the Tabernacle.  Last week the focus was on its construction.  This week, instructions are given for what was to happen inside the Tabernacle.  Is this only a historical record of what happened back then? What does this have to do with us today?

Much of the reading is devoted to instructions regarding the priests, Aaron and his sons. ‘Call for your brother, Aaron, and his sons, Nadav And Abihu, Eleazer and Ithamar.  Set them apart from the rest of the people of Israel so they may minister to me and be my priests.’ 28:1  The chapter continues with explicit instructions about the clothing the priests were to wear.

HighPriest

Aaron and his descendants have a permanent calling to serve God as representatives of the people.  Anyone not descended from Aaron is not qualified for that unique service.

However, earlier in Exodus 19:6, God declared to the children of Israel:

And you shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.

What does it mean that God wants us to be ‘a kingdom of priests’?

The call to priesthood is three-fold:  to be set-apart, to share God’s character and to be brought close to His presence.

As a priest serves as an intermediary between God and men, so each of us who are part of the “kingdom of priests” is called by God to 1) understand that we are set apart for His purposes; 2) we are to emulate His character; and 3) we are to do all in our power to get as close to Him as possible.  Only then are we able to share His Word with others by demonstration and expression.  Wherever we find ourselves in this world, our primary destiny is to reflect the character of the Almighty through how we live.  Our words, our actions, our attitudes, our choices are to be governed by the Word of God and when they are, we become that influence over those around us that God created us to be.

Part of being a ‘priest’ was also to stand in the gap for the people. While you and I may not qualify to exercise that responsibility in the same way that Aaron and his sons did in the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, nevertheless we are able to step into that role through prayer.  Turning to God on behalf of others is part of the duty of a ‘kingdom of priests.’

Our world is facing challenges and dangers from many directions.  Thousands are suffering in various and sundry ways – diseases, famines, natural disasters.  Others are struggling with unemployment, homelessness, depression.  The list goes on.  Are we touched with the pain of others? Or are we so wrapped up in ourselves that we pay no attention to the suffering and the persecuted?

Compassion is defined as ‘sympathetic concern for the sufferings and misfortunes of others.’ Whether you are able to give any practical assistance to someone in need or in pain is not the only issue.  Sometimes we can; sometimes we can’t.  But what we can always do is be the ‘priest’ and at the very least, lift them in prayer to our heavenly Father. We can follow the example of Abraham, who seeing the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah and being told that God was going to destroy the city, cried out in prayer for mercy.  “If You find fifty righteous, will You spare the city?” He asked the Lord.   How many times Moses went to God on behalf of the people when they sinned, when they rebelled, when they complained and he interceded on their behalf before God?

That is the duty of a priest.  That is the duty of a kingdom of priests.

In Tune with Torah this week = think about your prayers of the past week, the past month.  Were they primarily focused on you, your family, your needs, your concerns? If so, don’t beat yourself up about it – most of us would probably be in the same boat with you.

But don’t justify it either.  Our hearts need to be expanded so our prayers will be more inclusive of others beyond our immediate circle.  God’s compassion never fails, His mercies are new every morning.  Aren’t we all thankful for that!! We need to be more like Him and cultivate compassionate hearts towards others.

Weekly Torah Commentary — Chukat June 26, 2015

Numbers 19:1-22:1

The children of Israel have arrived at Kadesh and find themselves without water. They begin to complain to Moses and Aaron. As the two leaders turn to God, they are told to take the staff, speak to the rock and water will pour forth.

Then something unexpected happens. Moses takes his staff as Aaron gathers the people. Then Moses says: “Listen now, you rebels, shall we bring you water out of this rock?” Then “Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff” (Num. 20:10-11).

This action cost Moses and Aaron the privilege of leading the people across the Jordan into the Promised Land. “Because you did not have enough faith in Me to sanctify me in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I have given them” (ibid., v. 12).

Commentators disagree as to why this single action earned Moses such a severe penalty. Was it his anger? Or his act of striking the rock instead of speaking to it? Was it the subtle implication that it was he and not God who brought water from the rock? Was it that he repeated what he had done almost forty years earlier showing that though he was the right leader for the ex-slaves, he was not the leader for the new generation?

Why did Moses fail this particular test? On two previous occasions he had faced the same challenge. Why this third time did he lose emotional control?

I suggest that the answer is explicitly in the text but in such an understated manner that perhaps we’ve missed it.

In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried. (Num. 20:1)

Immediately after this statement we read the words: “Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron.” I believe there is a connection between the death of Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron and the events that immediately followed, including Moses’ response to their complaints.

This was the first challenge Moses faced without his dearly beloved sister at his side. Remember who she was to Moses. She was his elder sister, his oldest sibling. She had watched over him as he floated down the Nile in a basket. She had the presence of mind, and the boldness, to speak to Pharaoh’s daughter and arrange for her baby brother to be nursed by his own mother. Without Miriam, Moses would have grown up ignorant of who he really was.

Miriam is a strong presence in his life though often in the background. She led the women in song at the Red Sea, exhibiting a leadership role. We get a glimpse of how much she meant to Moses when she and Aaron “began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite” (Num. 12:1). When Miriam is smitten with leprosy, Moses prays for her with simple eloquence in the shortest prayer on record – five Hebrew words – “Please, God, heal her now.” Moses cares deeply for her, despite her negative talk.

But I suggest that it is in this week’s reading that we begin to perceive the full impact of her influence. For the first time Moses faces a challenge without his sister at his side. And for the first time Moses loses emotional control in the presence of the all the people. This, my friends, is one of the effects of bereavement. Those who have experienced the loss of a sibling often say it is harder than the loss of a parent. The loss of a parent, difficult though it be, is part of the natural order of life. The loss of a brother or sister is far less expected and more profoundly disorienting. And Miriam was no ordinary sibling. Moses owed her his entire relationship with his natural family, as well as his identity as a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Leadership is a lonely undertaking. But at the same time no leader can successfully survive on his or her own. Jethro warned Moses about this many years earlier. (Exod. 18:18) A leader needs three kinds of support: (1) allies who will fight alongside him/her, (2) a trustworthy team to whom he/she can delegate, and (3) a soul-mate or soul-mates to whom he/she can confide his/her doubts and fears, who will listen with no agenda but to serve as a supportive presence, and who will give him/her the courage, confidence and sheer resilience to carry on.

It is false to suppose that people in positions of leadership have thick skins. Most are intensely vulnerable. They can suffer deeply from doubt and uncertainty. Leader are often faced with decisions, not knowing what the end result may be. Leaders can be hurt by criticism and the betrayal of people they once considered friends. Because they are leaders, they rarely show their vulnerability in public. They often have to project a confidence they may not feel internally.

Leaders need confidants, people who will kindly tell them what they do not want to hear and cannot hear from anyone else; people in whom they can confide without fear that their transparency will be publicized. A trustworthy confidant cares about the leader more than about the issues. He or she up lifts the weary or discouraged leader, and gently brings them back to reality. I dare say there is no successful leader without a loyal, supportive confidant(s).

Maimonides calls it the “friendship of trust” and describes it as having someone in whom “you have absolute trust and with whom you are completely open and unguarded,” hiding neither the good news nor the bad, knowing that the other person will neither take advantage of the confidences shared, nor share them with others.”

Miriam was Moses’ “trusted friend,” his confidante, the source of his emotional stability. Grieving her death, he could no longer cope with crisis as he had done while she was alive.

Those who are a source of strength to others need their own source of strength. The Torah explicitly demonstrates that for Moses, God Himself was often that source of strength. But Moses was also a human being and even he needed a human friend, a human confidant. Miriam was that friend.

Even the greatest cannot lead alone.

In Tune with Torah this week = The Bible knows nothing of living as a spiritual and emotional hermit. Human beings have a God-given need for relationship – with God and with one another. Some say that if an individual has even two or three intimate friends in life, they are abundantly blessed. Friendships of this degree are precious gifts and are to be treasured and appreciated.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary — Naso May 29, 2015

Numbers/Bamidbar 4:21 – 7:89

Most of this week’s reading deals with the offerings brought by the heads of the various tribes, when the Tabernacle was consecrated. Immediately preceding the list of the offerings is this instruction:

And God spoke to Moses saying: ‘Speak to Aaron and his children saying, “Thus bless the children of Israel, say to them: ‘May God bless you and guard you. May God’s face shine on you, and may He find favor in you. May God lift His face toward you and give you peace.'” They shall put My name on the children of Israel and I shall bless them.’ (Numbers 6:22-27)

The idea of ‘Blessings’ is a matter of daily life; from the mundane action of acknowledging a person’s sneeze, to the joy of a father giving his blessing to a prospective son-in-law. Or, from the expressions of thanks for food that has been provided to the authoritative blessing of a Jewish father over his children every Friday night. Taking the word at face-value and based on a quick scan of its use throughout biblical texts, we can say that to be blessed means 1) to be favored by God and 2)to pronounce the favor of God on someone else, such as in the commonly used, ‘God bless you’.

Aaron, the older brother of Moses, was a priest, descended from the tribe of Levi, and also a prophet. He was a gentle man, a lover of peace, often using eloquent and persuasive speech as a means of communication. It was his responsibility to offer sacrifices to God and afterwards, to lift his hands and speak a blessing over the people. In Leviticus 9:23-24 we read that after blessing the people, Aaron (and Moses) went into the tent of meeting. When they came out again, it says that Aaron blessed the people again; and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people.

Note that Aaron bestows a blessing on the people after he, himself, has worshipped. Therefore, we derive the principle that our ability to declare blessings on others is the fruit of our personal relationship with God. Our words, according to Proverbs 18:21, carry the power of life and death. In another place we are reminded that the words of our mouth reflect the condition of our hearts. As a rotten tree cannot produce nourishing, edible fruit, neither can a soul darkened by bitterness, jealousies and the like produce effective words of blessing.

So who is the most effective at blessing others? The person who is deeply aware and profoundly grateful for all the blessings he himself has received from the Almighty. An abiding attitude of gratitude is foundational to the ability to successfully bestow life-giving blessings on others.

When we speak a blessing, we are not declaring our own favor on something or someone, we are speaking and the declaring the favor of God; in other words, we are agents communicating a blessing on the Lord’s behalf.

The power we can exercise in blessing others is not to be taken lightly. To Aaron, it was a supremely serious matter; it should be to us, as well. Our words and actions carry tremendous influence, whether we are aware of it or not.

In Tune with Torah this week = The late Maya Angelou said it this way: “The thing to do, it seems to me, is to prepare yourself so you can be a rainbow in somebody else’s cloud… But be a blessing to somebody. That’s what I think.” How are we doing at being ‘rainbows in someone else’s cloud’? How grateful are we on a daily basis for all of God’s goodness to us? How far have we come in developing the self-less-ness needed to care more about others than ourselves?

Shabbat Shalom