By Chazan Jaclyn Chernett
Moses’ frustration at the people’s consistent complaints wore him down. ‘I can’t take any more of this!’ he cried out to God. ‘Where am I to get meat to feed them? I can’t bear these people any longer!’
God’s response to him was to find seventy elders to share the leadership burden. But didn’t this echo the advice given to him by his father-in-law Jethro in Exodus 18? ‘What are you doing to the people? Why are you doing all this alone? You will burn yourself out and also the people. Find capable people who can judge. You look after the major issues and they will look after the rest.’ Moses listened to this wise counsel and did just that.
In revisiting this theme in Beha’alotcha, we are given a literary clue a little further back, in Numbers 10:31. We are told that Moses’ father-in-law Hobab ben Reuel, one of the traditional names for Jethro, wanted to go back home to Midian. Moses needed him and pleaded with him to stay. Did he stay or did he leave? We don’t know.
What we do know and, hopefully, learn from these texts is that we cannot, and should not, be alone. Even great leaders sway under pressure. Life is difficult, particularly when there are urgent calls on our energy, our time, our love and all the resources we can muster.
Sometimes we can’t see the wood for the trees. And, as with Moses, it can happen to us more than once. Friends and family try to give us advice when they see us foundering. We do the same for others, too. Do we listen? Do we really hear? Do we have the courage it sometimes requires to take the first step – to get help? It is easier to stay in our complacent state, thinking we know best. But doing this can wear ourselves down, and at the same time we unwittingly increase the concern of those around us, who care.
The adage ‘If you do what you always did, you will get what you always got’ might be enough to move us. But it often doesn’t. Do we have to wait until it takes a crisis, as in both Moses’ situations, before the bell rings with us?