Torah Portion: Beha’alotcha (When You Light the Lamps) B’midbar (Numbers) 8:1-12:16
HafTorah: Zechariah 2:13-4:7
In tonight’s Torah portion we see Moshe go from unbridled emotion at being on the journey to the Promised Land to the depths of despair when dealing with the burden of leading the people of Israel. In Numbers 10:29-32 we read where Moshe, speaking to his father-in-law, Jethro, uses the present tense verb of the journey as if it is almost over – the end is just over the next hill and he and the people will be home.
Next we read in Numbers 11:14-15 where he cries out to G-d, “Kill me, I pray you, at once if I have found favor in your sight.” In today’s slang you might say, “Just shoot me already!” What brought this man from being so excited and then one chapter later falling into depression and despair? I would like us to explore this and see what we can find that might help us in our own life when we come to such a place, and we all do at one time or another. To help us I will draw on an article that I read this week by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.
Part of the answer begins in that we live in a society that prepares or encourages us to think about how to have a great career and how to succeed but leaves us on our own as to how to cultivate an inner life, a spiritual way to live. How do we have a successful life and hold on to our faith no matter what goes on around us? This very thing is the central theme of our Torah portion this week.
Up until now, we have seen Moshe as a strong, great man of G-d. He was the one who stood up to Pharaoh and even in Shemot 32:32 challenged G-d. This is the public Moshe. Like us, it was that external picture that the world saw everyday. However, here in our Torah we see a Moshe that is a lonely man, unsure of himself and finally breaking down. In Numbers 11:4-5 we see one complaint too many for Moshe. Then in Numbers 11:21-29 we find G-d’s answer to Moshe. He is able to see that he is not alone but he has men to help him. Even more importantly G-d is still with him and has not left him. Moshe, in Numbers 11:29, expresses his transformation.
But what happens the next time he is confronted by disappointment? Will he fall back into despair? In Numbers 12:1-3 we see the cruelest blow of all. Moshe’s own brother and sister talk about him, no, gossip about his choice of a wife. Those closest to us can hurt us the most and here we see Moshe rise above the hurt of his sibling’s gossip. In fact, in verse 12:3 we read that, “Now Moshe was very humble, more so than any other man on the face of the earth.”
How did this change happen? He went from, “Kill me now” to the quiet confidence that G-d is with me. He did not need to defend himself.
If we look back to his rant to the Father he used all the personal pronouns, “I”, “me” and “myself.” He saw the Israelites behavior as a challenge to him – not G-d. G-d had to remind him. “Is the L-rd’s arm too short?” Then his view was changed. It was not him, it was the Father who would carry him. C.S. Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” For genuinely humble people it is G-d, other people and principle that matters, not me. If we do not think constantly about “I” we can’t be injured by those who speak ill about us. They are shooting at a target that no longer exists. True humility reminds us that we are not the center of the universe but rather we serve the One Who is.” G-d allows those things into our life that challenges us so that we might learn to turn to Him that we may become, Oved Elohim or servants of G-d.