Beha’alothecha: Would that all the people were prophets!

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Beha’alotecha

Shalom and blessings!

Tthe following drasha appeared as the “Rabbi’s Corner” of the June
issue of the “The Voice,” which is the monthly newspaper of the
Dutchess County Jewish community; it’s based on this week’s parsha but
the message applies for the entire month 🙂

With that, let’s turn to the Torah portion Beha’alothecha, which among
other stories tells us a little about two fellows named Eldad and
Medad. It seems that these two men were having some sort of spiritual
experience in the camp of the Israelites, speaking in
prophetic words, and this caused a bit of a commotion, because the
people had previously seen only Moshe speak as a prophet. Yehoshua
[Joshua], Moshe’s second-in-command, perceived this event as a threat
to Moshe’s status, but Moshe himself saw the bigger picture: prophecy
was not a zero-sum game, but something which would lift up the
community. Moshe rebukes Yehoshua, saying “are you zealous for my
sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, with the Divine
spirit upon them!” [Bamidbar/ Numbers 11:25)

What impresses me most about this story is Moshe’s recognition that
that spiritual leadership is never restricted to only one person.
After all, earlier in his tenure he had learned to share the judicial
and managerial tasks with other elders in the community, and now he
sees that even prophecy is not his task alone. It would have been easy
for Moshe to agree with Yehoshua that these “upstarts” should be
stopped in their tracks, thus preserving his position as the sole
source of revelation for the community. I see both wisdom and maturity
in his graceful answer that God’s spirit should be upon as many people
as possible.

Dutchess County is not the only Jewish community which needs broader
participation in Jewish leadership- I’d say that Jewish communities
all across North America are seeking people to serve on boards, help
develop creative new programs, raise funds, teach children, lead
minyanim [prayer services], help formulate community policies,
originate new ways of reaching out to others in compassion and love. .
. the list of leadership opportunities would fill pages. Yet in order
to develop new leadership, we have to be more like Moshe and be
careful of reacting like Yehoshua- it’s much easier to preserve “turf”
than to nurture the untested and different ideas that new voices
leaders often bring to the discussion.

I saw a powerful example of “Moshe-attitude” a few months ago at a
breakfast of the Poughkeepsie Area Chamber of Commerce, where I had
been invited to give the opening prayer. One might think that a
Chamber of Commerce would be the place where established businesses
seek to consolidate their ties and shut out competitors, but instead I
witnessed an amazing encouragement of the newest entrepreneurs and the
smallest business, who were introduced to the other Chamber members
with applause and heartfelt welcome. Newcomers were seen not as
threats, but as participants in the task of building up a thriving
community- it was inspiring.

If only Jewish institutions welcomed Jews the way the Chamber of
Commerce welcomed the newest painting or printing business! If only we
could say “would that all the Lord’s people were prophets”- or
participants in classes, volunteer projects, prayer services, boards,
and innovative gatherings. To welcome all Jews means to welcome the
ideas they bring with them; to open wide our doors means seeing each
person as a fellow builder; to be like Moshe means to recognize that
none of us owns our institutions, committees, or projects, but only
safeguard them for a little while until they are passed along to the
next generation.

Shabbat Shalom,

RNJL

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