Leaders are human, which means they have flaws. I think we can agree on this basic principle. But why do their flaws seem so much bigger? Political mistakes and indiscretions are headline news, and corporate CEOs have their every misstep dissected and commented on. Is it possible that we elect and promote people more flawed than we are? Or has their position of power affected their ability to judge circumstances and consequences?
These are both possibilities, but likelier still it’s our instant, digital world that has given us the ability to know everything about everyone which has altered our perspective. And because we hold our leaders to a higher standard, the lesser qualities are magnified much more than the greater qualities.
This week we read parshat Beha’alotcha, a turning point in our narrative. This section of text begins with instruction for the purification of the Levites as they do their holy work in the Tabernacle. We read about the first Passover sacrifice in the wilderness and how to celebrate Passover if we miss it the first time around. Then the text turns toward the Tabernacle, the Mishkan, and teaches us that God’s presence hovers over it in a cloud. Finally, Moshe’s family – his father-in-law, wife, and children – return to join him and the rest of the Israelite nation on their journey through the wilderness. It is in the return of his family to the camp that we learn about what unrealistic expectations have been levied against Moshe.
Chapter twelve begins with Miriam and Aaron gossiping about their brother. “. . . he married a Cushite woman. They said, ‘Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?’ The Lord heard it. Now Moses was a very humble man, more so than any other man on earth.”
There’s no question sibling rivalry goes back as far as the Torah. Miriam and Aaron clearly don’t believe that Moshe married the “right” woman for him, and it sounds like they don’t believe he is worthy of being the leader. But why is this? According to Rashi, Miriam isn’t necessarily upset about the type of woman that Moshe married, but in her eyes, he did not deliver as an appropriate husband. Miriam is more upset that her brother put his leadership responsibilities above his family responsibilities.
In the line, “Moses was a very humble man, more so than any other man on early,” literally the words used are “the man Moses.” Perhaps to emphasize that Moshe is only human. Miriam and Aaron have expectations of their brother – someone who is holy, a leader, and a father – that simply aren’t attainable. Even Moshe, the man who brought us out from Egypt with God and the man who stood up to Pharaoh, is imperfect; he is human.
Parshat Beha’alotcha reminds us that we are all human, we are all fallible, and we are all imperfect. God brings a harsh punishment to Moshe’s siblings to make a statement about unrealistic expectations and the way they can bring down a community. Expectations of perfection leave you wide open for failure and frustration. This week we know that our job is to accept each other for who we are, flaws and all.