Meet Me Halfway – Parshat Beha’alotcha 5776

Meet Me Halfway

Life is often about making compromises. Sometimes we compromise because it’s the easiest solution. I work on one side of town, you work on the other, and we pick a place in the middle for coffee. Other times compromise means one person bends a little bit further than the other to make the situation work. The key is for each party to know what they want and how far they’re willing to bend, as well as recognize that pleasing only yourself won’t lead to a workable solution.

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 to 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.

As God is conversing with the Moshe, God tries to understand both the mood of the people and the situation at hand. In chapter 11, verse 17 God says, “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.” The people are angry about their food situation and generally about being in the desert, and they take it out on Moshe. God realizes that in these circumstances and with this state of mind, it is unrealistic to ask the people to elevate themselves. And so, God will “come down.”

Samson Raphael Hirsch, a 19th century German commentator on the Torah, reads this verse as God predicting that given the mood of the people, they shouldn’t be expected to rise toward God. Instead, God will come down to shorten the distance between them. In other words, well before we started talking about things like relational Judaism and the outreach potential of social media, God understood the need to address the people where they were and help elevate them by meeting them halfway.

Too often we demand compromise as if it’s one-sided. We expect others to “rise to the occasion.” But parshat Beha’alotcha reminds us that sometimes we have to meet in the middle in order to move forward together. This is the blessing this week, the blessing of walking with each other, of accepting each other where we are at in every circumstance and working to move forward together.

[Watercolor by Frits Ahlefeldt]

Expecting Perfection – Parshat Beha’alotcha 5775

Expecting Perfection

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.