Weekly Torah Commentary – Yitro February 2, 2018

Torah reading: Exodus 18:1 – 20:23

Haftorah reading: Isaiah 6: 1-13

In Exodus 18, Moses is faced with the challenge of change.  And his father-in-law, Jethro (Yitro in Hebrew) is the source of the challenge.

Change is not easy– and many of us don’t like change.

Change is necessary– though all of us know down deep inside that change is important.

Change is a constant: “One man said that the only thing that you can count on is change.

After seeing many miracles and overcoming many obstacles, Moses and Israel were in a time of rest and recuperation when Jethro brought Moses’ wife and children to him. (Moses had left them behind when he was called to confront Pharaoh.)


When Jethro arrived, Moses took him into his tent and bragged on all that God had done for Israel. Jethro’s was so moved that he offered a sacrifice to the God of Israel. Then we read:

The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?” Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.” Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.  Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him.  Teach them His decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave.  But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.  Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you.  If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”  Exodus 18:13-23

There are both challenges and benefits to facing change in a godly manner.  What do we learn from Moses in this situation? Three fears that leaders – and all of us – face come to mind.

Pride-Why should I listen to Jethro? God has been doing mighty things through Moses. Everything seems to be working for him. Suddenly here is his father-in-law giving him unsolicited advice.

It is easier to make changes when things are going poorly but much harder when things are going well. A wise leader or person makes changes and adjustments through out their lives.  It is the tree that is producing good fruit that is pruned in order to produce even better fruit.

Fear-What if this does not work? Moses had to ask himself, what if this thing does not work? What is everyone going to say when I tell them that they need to go to someone else besides me?

One of the reasons we oppose change is fear; fear of the unknown, fear of losing control, fear of being insignificant, fear of others doing better than we have done.

Insecurity-Is it a good idea to empower others?  Moses was the leader. If you opposed him and God, bad things happened. Now Moses was advised to empower others and give them influence. This had to test his insecurity. Moses may have thought, “What if those whom I put over a thousand people end up opposing me?”

A very real question!

By contrast, what are the benefits to Moses for accepting Jethro’s advice?

Efficiency –  vs. 17: “Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good.  You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.”

I think most rational people look at this story and conclude that this was a wise decision. The ability to delegate to the right people improves efficiency and productivity.  More people were able to use their gifts and talents in a proper framework of authority and thereby fulfill their own callings and giftings.

Effectiveness – People were taken care of more quickly, and they were able to get a more personal touch.  Jethro says, If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.  vs. 23  The wisest thing Moses did  was to break up the people of Israel into smaller groups, so they could be cared for more effectively.

Excellence – Moses himself was able to do what he was called to do with greater excellence by having the ‘distractions’ of meeting with all the people delegated to capable men of integrity.  Moses was called to deliver the people and to teach them and Jethro’s advice freed him to fulfill that calling more fully.

Jethro said to Moses, “Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave.”

Lastly, Jethro’s advice facilitated the training of future leaders.

Once Israel entered the promise land, they would need leaders to govern throughout the region.  Raising up judges under Moses was a training ground for preparing the leaders that would be needed after Moses passed away. The benefit of wise change is that it prepares God’s people for the future.

In Tune with Torah this week = Changes that we may be facing in our personal lives may not be anything like what Moses faced.  Nevertheless, change is a constant part of life and as we face changes, we do well to pay attention to both its challenges and its benefits.  To resist change when it is pressing upon us is harmful to our spiritual growth. Let us embrace it and by the grace and wisdom of our Heavenly Father submit ourselves to the changes that will propel us on to the next step of our spiritual journey.

Shabbat Shalom




Weekly Torah Commentary – Shoftim September 9, 2016

Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9

When [the king] is established on his royal throne, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this Torah … It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to be in awe of the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not feel superior to his brethren or turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time in the midst of Israel. (Deut. 17:18-20)

In these verses, the queen of all virtues is highlighted: ‘[he] shall not feel superior to his brethren’. 

Many people have misconceptions about humility. To be humble is not about beating yourself up or letting other people put you down.  It is not low self-esteem, nor is it the opposite of confidence. In fact, only the truly humble person thinks and acts with confidence because he understands his utter dependence on the goodness of God.

Humility is not just a virtue; it is the root of all other virtues.  A lack of humility is at the root of every character defect and failure for it is the ego [pride] that causes us to choose our own way and our own opinion over God’s.

In this regard, we do well to remember Isaiah’s warning:  ‘My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts, says the LORD. And My ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so My ways are higher than your ways and My thoughts, higher than your thoughts.’  Isaiah 55:8-9

The seemingly insignificant events of daily life are the tests of our humility.  It is in the simple things of every day that our humility – or the lack thereof – is demonstrated.  You see, it is not enough to assume a humble countenance before God in times of prayer.  Humility before God is proven in our interactions with our fellowman.  This is why the king of Israel is commanded to keep God’s Word with him at all times and to meditate on it continually.

The ‘Me’ in all of us is a tyrannical, demanding person. It will always want the highest place amidst others and feel indignant or ‘wounded’ if another is preferred over ourselves. Nothing dies harder than our tendency to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. By contrast, the humble person is easily able to rejoice when others are honored and generous in giving praise where praise is rightly due.  He is not jealous nor is he threatened by the achievements and success of another.

Humility is essential to faith. For what is biblical faith?  The utter confidence that there is a God in the heavens who loves and cares for us and has created us with a purpose and a destiny.  Faith is quiet but immovable confidence in His covenant and His goodness. By its very nature, faith demands humility.

Strong intellectual convictions without humility in the heart lead to arrogance and attitudes of superiority.  Did not the prophet Micah remind us: O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and what He requires of you. To do justice, to love righteousness and to walk humbly with your God Micah 6:8

If a king or leader, whom all are taught to honor and respect, is commanded to be humble – “not feel superior to his brethren” – how much more so the rest of us. Moses, the great leader of the Jewish people, was “very humble, more so than anyone on the face of the earth” Num. 12: 3?

We have just entered the Hebrew month of Elul; thirty days of preparation for the great Festival of Trumpets which this year begins at sundown on October 3rd.  Elul is the month of repentance, of pausing to take an internal inventory.  How have we progressed spiritually in the past year? In great measure, the answer to that question is founded on how we have grown in humility – or not.  For it is out of the humble heart that spirituality flourishes.

In Tune with Torah this week = as we search our hearts in preparation for Yom Teruah, the Festival of the Blowing of the Shofar, also called Rosh Hashana, the issue is not so much to analyze each outward deed but to get to the heart of the matter – is the root of my personal behavior self-focused or God-focused?  Self-serving or God-serving? Prideful or humble?

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 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 Comentary – Yitro January 29, 2016

Exodus 18:1 – 20:23


This week’s Torah reading is identified by the name of Yitro, the Hebrew spelling of Jethro, who was the father-in-law of Moses.  In the opening verse, we learn that Jethro, a priest of Midian, has heard about all that God had done for Moses and for the people of Israel who had been enslaved in Egypt.  Even in the days long before internet, radio or TV, news spread all over the region.  Jethro decides to journey to where Moses and the children of Israel are encamped and brings along with him, Zipporah, the wife of Moses and her two sons, Gershom and Eliezer.

Now these four individuals – Jethro, Zipporah, Gershom and Eliezer – had not witnessed the miracles of God.  They didn’t see for themselves the plagues inflicted on Egypt nor the parting of the Red Sea for the Israelites and the destruction of Pharaoh’s army by that same body of water.  They only heard about it – but that was enough.  They believed the testimony that reached them and the ancient Rabbis opine that their faith in what God had done was all the more precious precisely because they had not ‘seen’ but believed. And isn’t that what FAITH is really all about?

If we only view the Exodus through the eyes of the Israelites who experienced it, we don’t get the full picture.  The faith of Jethro, Zipporah and the two sons must be included for it speaks directly to us who also were not present on that first Passover night.  It was not given to us to closet ourselves in a home whose firstborn child was spared because our parents obeyed the command of God through Moses to smear the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorway.  It was not our lot to hear the wails and screams of Egyptian parents when they discovered their firstborn shrouded in the coldness of death.

Yet because, like Jethro, we believe, our faith is indeed precious in God’s sight, as a later prophet, Habakkuk wrote, “The righteous shall live by faith.” 2:4  And of Abraham it is written that his faith was accounted to him as righteousness when he believed God’s promise of a son, even in his old age.

After Jethro arrived, Moses sat with him and told him in detail all of the wonders that God had performed for Israel.  Now, remember, Jethro was already a religious man – a priest of his own people.  But confronted with the works of the Hebrews’ God, his gods were exposed as non-gods and he worshiped the One True God.

This is their first meeting since Moses asked permission from Jethro to return to Egypt some time earlier. Have you ever wondered what Jethro thought back then? Did Moses have illusions of grandeur? Was he crazy? Wasn’t it a bit unlikely that he, who cared for Jethro’s sheep, was going to set free a nation of slaves? 

If Jethro thought those things, perhaps he also thought of his first meeting with Moses, after that ‘Egyptian stranger’ had protected Jethro’s daughters from ‘hoodlums’ trying to harass them.  We can surmise that a good relationship developed between Moses and Jethro through those forty years that Moses not only worked for Jethro but also became his son-in-law.  Whatever had transpired before now, it is clear that Moses and his father-in-law treated each other with great respect.

The next day, Jethro observes Moses spending long hours listening to and resolving disputes between the Israelites and proceeds to offer advice to his son-in-law.  Oh, dear! We all know how unsolicited advice has ruined many a ‘good’ relationship, don’t we?

Exodus 18:24  Moses listened to his father-in-law’s advice and followed his suggestions.

Another great example from the life of Moses. What he did not say is as important as what he did say – and do.  He did not say ‘I already knew that’ or ‘Look, I’ve come a long way since I left your tent, Jethro. I’m leading a nation of over 4 million people!‘ He didn’t protest, ‘The God of Israel spoke with me from a burning bush.  Who are you to give me advice?’

Moses was an exceedingly humble man.  He knew how to accept advice with grace and modesty, a rare quality in any generation. Moses was not a man who thought he had all the answers; he did not resent advice from Jethro, even when he had not asked for it.  I venture to say that after being raised in the palace of Pharaoh, accustomed to wealth and prestige and then banishing himself to the simple life of a shepherd in Midian, Moses had ample time to bring his ego under control, to develop the humility he would need to be an effective servant of God when the time came for him to step into his destiny…at 80 years of age no less!  Great power and a forceful personality are not the distinctive hallmarks of a great leader in God’s eyes.  Humility is.

In Tune with Torah this week:  Giving advice can be a tricky situation; so is receiving it. Are we quick to offer ‘unsolicited advice’ which may actually be just our own opinion about what someone else is doing or not doing?

How do we handle it when someone else gives us advice? Do we resent it? Dismiss it without consideration because of pride, ego?

True humility is not weakness; it is strength of character that manifests in a teachable spirit. That doesn’t mean that every piece of advice you are given is always spot on.  It may or may not be.  But it does mean that you are humble enough to consider what is said, be honest with yourself before God and then decide your course of action without any negative feeling toward the other person.

Weekly Torah Commentary – Shoftim August 20, 2015

Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9

In this week’s Torah lesson we read a fascinating instruction to the king.

“When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he must write for himself a copy of this Torah on a scroll before the levitical priests” (Deut. 17:18). The passage furthur instructs the king that he must “read it all the days of his life” so that he will be God-fearing and never break God’s commandments. But there is another reason also: so that he will “not begin to feel superior to his brethren” or as another translation puts it: “so that his heart be not haughty over his brothers”.

In short: The king was required to have humility. The most powerful in the land should not feel himself to be the most powerful in the land.

To be sure the king is given other commandments and Solomon’s failures can be directly traced to the deterioration of the humility which he so beautifully exhibited at the beginning of his reign.

When any leader, religious or political, begins to feel that because he is ‘above’ the people he is also ‘above’ the law, that nation or group will soon have a tyrant or dictator at the helm. The Bible knows nothing of leadership without humility. Ultimately, the arrogance of power will produce its own downfall. It is inevitable and history proves it to be so.

The Torah’s insistence on humility is much more than an urging to “be nice”. Humility is essential to leadership. Maimonides, the great Jewish sage, commented as follows:
Just as the Torah grants him [the king] great honor and obliges everyone to respect him, so it commands him to be lowly and empty at heart, as it says: ‘My heart is empty within me’ (Ps. 109:22). Nor should he treat Israel with overbearing haughtiness, for it says, “so that his heart be not haughty over his brothers” (Deut. 17:20).

He should be gracious and merciful to the small and the great, involving himself in their good and welfare. He should protect the honor of even the humblest of men. When he speaks to the people as a community, he should speak gently, as it says, “Listen my brothers and my people….” (1 Chronicles 28:2), and similarly, “If today you will be a servant to these people…” (1 Kings 12:7).

He should always conduct himself with great humility. There was none greater than Moses, our teacher. Yet he said: “What are we? Your complaints are not against us” (Ex. 16:8). He should bear the nation’s difficulties, burdens, complaints and anger as a nurse carries an infant. (Maimonides, Laws of Kings 2:6)

The Torah model of God-fearing leadership is Moses who is described as “very humble, more so than any person on the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3).

Moses was hardly meek, timid or bashful. Rather Moses refused to ‘lord it over’ the people. He honored those under his charge, considered them important and pleaded with God on their behalf. Humility doesn’t mean demeaning yourself; it means properly honoring others. We read in the Ethics of the Fathers: “Who is honored? One who honors others.” Pirkei Avot 4:1

God’s love and care extends to all, regardless of rank or position. We, and especially a leader, must do likewise.

Rabbi Shlomo of Karlin said: “The greatest source of sin is to forget we are children of the king.” We are all members of a royal family and must act as if we are. And the mark of true royalty is humility.

In Tune with Torah this week = examining our own attitude toward others whether we are leaders or not. Do we readily honor and respect other people? Even when their opinions differ from ours? The humble are more concerned with giving honor to others than receiving it for themselves. True greatness is manifest by humility.

Shabbat Shalom

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 — Korach June 18, 2015

Numbers/Bamidbar 16 – 18

This week’s reading contains one of the more dramatic events in the wilderness – the rebellion of Korach and his companions.

Korach rebukes Moses: “You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the LORD’s assembly?” (Num. 16:3).

First problem with his accusation is that Moses did not “set himself above” the children of Israel; God called him to that position and responsibility. In judging Moses’ intent, Korach actually reveals a great deal about his own character.

Someone may argue that his comment is in keeping with what Thomas Jefferson wrote in the American Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

The problem is that Korach does not mean what he says. He opposes the leadership of Moses because he himself wants the position! “All are equal, but some are more equal than others” is the seventh command in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, his critique of Stalinist Russia.

According to Jewish law, even a king is commanded to be humble. He is to carry a Torah scroll with him and read from it all the days of his life “so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites” (Deut. 17:19-20.

Biblical leadership is not a matter of status but of function. A leader is not one who exalts himself higher than those he or she leads. The absence of hierarchy does not mean the absence of leadership. An orchestra needs a conductor. A team needs a captain.

A leader need not have ‘better’ skills or talents than those he leads. His role is different. He is there to inspire, to co-ordinate, to make sure that everyone is following the same script, traveling in the same direction, acting as a community rather than a group of prima donnas. The leader must have a vision and communicate it. Whether he likes it or not, at times he has to impose discipline.

Without leadership even the most impressive group of individuals will produce not music but noise. “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6, 21:25). That is what happens when there is no leadership.

According to the Bible, a leader is a servant; to lead is to serve. Anything else is not leadership as the Torah portrays and understands it.

This is what Korach did not realize: it is not that Moses was a different kind of being than we are all called to be. It is that he epitomized it to the utmost degree. The less there is of self in one who serves God, the more there is of God. Moses was the supreme exemplar of the principle, that “Where you find humility, there you find greatness.”

In Tune with Torah this week = taking an honest look at humility. What is it really? Do I have any??
Humility is recognizing who God made you and embracing it. The genuinely humble person is not phony. He realistically evaluates the gifts and talents he/she has received from the Lord, is thankful and diligent to use those in service to God and others, always and foremost aware that all the glory belongs to the Almighty.

Shabbat Shalom