Parashat Behalotcha 5778
“Moses was able to transmit his knowledge, passion and experience to the seventy elders without losing his internal fire”
One of the themes of this week’s parashah is Moses’ exhaustion at leading the people of Israel in the desert. The people complained and questioned the authority many times.
Moses was tired and complained to God:
“Why have You dealt ill with Your servant, and why have I not enjoyed Your favor, that You have laid the burden of all this people upon me?
Did I conceive all this people, did I bear them, that You should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom as a nurse carries an infant,’ to the land that You have promised on oath to their fathers?
Where am I to get meat to give to all this people, when they whine before me and say, ‘Give us meat to eat!’
I cannot carry all this people by myself, for it is too much for me.” (Bamidbar 11:11-14)
It is evident here that Moses was very tired and he couldn’t sustain the leadership of his people alone. He recognized that he needed help, so he addressed his problem to God.
A first lesson we can learn from Moses’ attitude is the importance of recognizing when we are not able to do certain things alone. We are not almighty, we are humans with strengths and weaknesses. It is good and cherished to recognize our limitations.
God listened to Moses’ problem and gave him advice, helping him to solve his difficult situation. This is God’s suggestion:
“Gather for Me seventy of Israel’s elders of whom you have experience as elders and officers of the people and bring them to the Tent of Meeting and let them take their place there with you. I will come down and speak with you there, and I will draw upon the spirit that is on you and put it upon them; they shall share the burden of the people with you, and you shall not bear it alone.” (Bamidbar 11:16-17)
This is an important lesson we may learn from this section of the parashah. We can’t do everything alone, we are not the only person who is capable to of doing certain things. It is important, in different aspects of our lives, to delegate and work as a team.
God suggested to Moses that he find seventy elders, a “work team,” in order to delegate part of his job and, with them, lead the people of Israel. God said: “they shall share the burden of the people with you, and you shall not bear it alone.” It is much easier to delegate and share the work than to do everything alone.
It is interesting to point out that God said to Moses regarding the elders: “I will draw upon the spirit that is on you and put it upon them.”
What does it mean that God will draw upon the spirit that was in Moses and put it upon the elders? Does it mean that the divine spirit that was inside Moses now will be diminished or that it will now be expanded to also rest on the elders?
Rashi gives an interesting explanation regarding this verse based on a Midrash:
“What was Moses like at that moment? He was like a light that is placed in a candlestick at which everybody lights his lamps and yet its illuminating power is not the least diminished.” (Sifrei Bamidbar 93)
According to this interpretation, when God drew the divine spirit from Moses to the elders, it means that Moses’s spirit illuminated the elders and at the same time the light remained with him.
Moses was able to transmit his knowledge, passion and experience to the seventy elders. However, he didn’t lose his internal fire.
Here we can learn a second lesson form this week’s parashah.
How did Moses transmit his fire to the elders? It is not easy, it is a real challenge for an educator. One may have fire of one’s own and find another candle extinguished, but it is not easy to light a spark in it. If I give it too much of my fire, I can burn the other candle. If I give it very little, it will not have enough energy to light up.
That was part of Moses’ wisdom, to be able to transmit the fire of Judaism to many people without burning them and achieving a successful transmission. He managed to light the fire in each one of them.
It is our challenge as educators, as parents, as a community to find a way to ignite in our students, children, and members a passion for Judaism, our tradition, and its values. To begin with this task, we should keep alive the spark of Judaism within us and look for ways to light other candles. That is what the tradition is about, lighting candles from generation to generation so that each candle can shine, warm, and illuminate others.
The Haftarah of this week ends saying: “Not by might, nor by power, but My spirit, said the Lord of Hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). It is not with force or power that we will succeed in transmitting our great treasure but rather through the spirit, our internal fire, with love, dedication, and passion.