This Shabbat’s D’var Torah was given by Rabbi Carl
The Torah portion of Be-Ha’alotekha is about spiritual leadership and its relationship with the community. Moses is “burned out” from handling our difficult people. He can no longer handle it all by himself so God gives him a “Board of Trustees”, elders who have some of Moses’s spiritual leadership. It is a trying time and Moses needs to share responsibility.
Moses has no problem sharing his spiritual quality of leadership with others. Meanwhile elsewhere in the camp two men named Eldad and Medad are engaged in acts of spiritual ecstasy and prophecy. Others object but not Moses who expresses this wish: “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets.” To Moses God’s spirit and prophecy were available to all.
We can derive two important values of Judaism from these events. First, is the value of a caring community where every shares in the affirmation that we are all dependent on each other, or in a more familiar phrase, “All for one, and one for all.” Everyone is equally obliged to help everyone else. It is not the job of Moses alone, nor the 70 alone, nor Eldad and Medad alone.
Here I have to quote David Brooks from an op-ed piece in the New York Times on June 2. It is entitled, “The Axis of Selfishness.” “The president embarked on his first foreign trip with the clear eyed outlook that the world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage. This sentence is the epitome of the Trump project. It asserts that selfishness is the sole driver of human affairs. It grows out of a worldview that life is a competitive struggle for gain. It implies that cooperative communities are hypocritical covers for the selfish jockeying underneath.”
Moses would have railed against this outlook and said that we are not only a global caring community but that we are also an “egalitarian community.” This is the second value derived from the events in this week’s Sedra. We have equal responsibility but also equal ability to fulfill that responsibility. The idea of being egalitarian here precedes the issue of women’s full participation in Jewish life. It might be called a DIY concept of Judaism. We can all learn what is necessary to become Jewish leaders whether it is lead a service, read Torah or Haftarah, lead a Seder, even deliver a D’var Torah.
This is every rabbi’s dream, to empower his community to do all of these things and much more. The rabbi may be more learned after studying for many years, but he or she does not have an exclusive claim to that knowledge or leadership. The rabbi does not have to be the surrogate for the congregant. We all have a direct line to God. SAMS is a paradigm of empowerment where congregants are encouraged to take over and lead not only at meetings but also in worship and teaching.
The American Jewish community began to embrace this in the 60’s and 70’s with the publication of a book entitled “The Jewish Catalog” which taught everyone how to do everything Jews do from tying Tzitzit to making Challah for Shabbat to putting on Tefillin and so much more. That period also saw the beginning of the Havurah movement in America where groups of young Jews, created communal living settings where they did Judaism in all ways, without a rabbi. They knew what our tradition has stressed, the concept that we are all a “Mamlechet Kohanim v’Goi Kadosh,” a kingdom of Priests and a holy nation.” The leaders like Moses of old played and the rabbis of today play an important role, but each and everyone of us in the community have the power and the responsibility- equally!
God and Moses partnered a long time ago to teach this concept to our people. Each generation must learn these values and live by them. Doing so guarantees Jewish survival.