I love being a part of a collaborative team. Nothing gives me greater joy and satisfaction than when I’m a part of a “we” especially when “we” are creating, bouncing ideas around, and supporting each other. It’s rewarding when all that work pays off in a beautiful end product that exceeds everyone’s expectations.
My one anxiety about teamwork is worrying that I’m not contributing enough or pulling my weight. If you’re not feeling creative or you’re struggling to complete a task, it can feel like you’re letting the entire team down. I value the hard work that others put in, and I expect the same from myself. By the same measure, I tend to hold others to the same high expectations I have for myself, and I struggle when those expectations aren’t met, despite the fact that they are my own expectations, no one else’s.
Being part of a team is really about the benefits of accomplishing something together. When we combine our strengths, it shouldn’t matter if all members are pulling their weight the entire time nonstop. We can allow moments when a team member or two can take a break to catch their breath without having the whole team fail or fall behind. Problems arise when neither the weight people pull nor the breaks they take are evenly distributed. We’re warned about this type of disparity in our Torah portion this week.
We begin the fourth book of the Torah, Sefer Bamidbar. The Israelites are now in the desert, and the groundwork for the structure of their future has been laid. Army leaders are appointed to lead alongside Moses and Aaron, a census is taken of the people, and we learn that the camps are situated in a specific order, each with a flag in the center that tells us which tribe is there. The time spent in Egypt is a distant memory at this point.
As the different roles of the tribes are laid out, we receive the lists of physical, mental, and emotional labor that each officer and their tribe must commit to in order for the entire nation to succeed. Notably in this list, those with titles like “Chief” are not exempt from physical labor.
Specifically, we find out Elazar, the Chief Officer, is assigned to guard duty. Elazar is one of Aaron’s sons, and he’s one of the highest authorities in the nation. His job is no ordinary desk job. Instead, he’s got hard labor. Why? Because according to the Jerusalem Talmud, “There is no special privilege in the palace of the king.” In other words, there is no room for an “honorary” position in the service of God.
Judaism is built around the notion that each of us has a purpose and work to do in building and maintaining our society. Parshat Bamidbar reminds us that who’s on the team or who they’re connected with isn’t nearly as important as what you can accomplish together with the personnel and skillset you have.