Parashat Beha’alotkha 5780
by Meir Sendor
In this week’s parashah Moshe Rabbenu asks for help leading the nation. In response, HaShem tells him to select a capable group of seventy elders, then arranges for them a collective prophetic experience. Why was this prophetic experience necessary?
Maimonides in Guide of the Perplexed (2:40) describes the role of a true leader. Since human beings have an extremely wide range of character qualities, we require
a leader who gauges the actions of individuals, perfecting what is deficient and reducing that which is excessive, who prescribes actions and moral habits that all of them must always practice in the same way, so that the natural diversity is hidden through multiple points of consensual accord and so that the community becomes well ordered.
On the social and political level the responsibility of a leader is to cultivate unity and consensus and peace among widely and wildly differing personalities. Such a leader needs to be what the sages call “mixed in with people,” understanding the human heart (e.g. Ketubot 17a). But Maimonides goes on to explain that for the further perfection of society a further level of leadership is necessary, a spiritual, prophetic level – to help people understand the nature of reality in truth, and their divinely-mandated spiritual and ethical responsibility in full.
Rav Kook develops this higher vision of responsibility and applies it to every one of us, everyone who aspires to be a fully realized human being, created in God’s image. In Psalms it says “HaShem is good to all, and His compassion is over all His works (Ps. 145:9).” Rav Kook expounds:
When the desire to be good to all becomes strong, then a person knows that illumination from Above has come to him. Fortunate is that person if he or she prepares a proper place in their heart, in their consciousness, to work with their hands and all their emotions to receive this elevated illumination… The higher holiness is full of love, kindness and patience in its full splendor. Hatred, harsh judgment and impatient pedantry are the result of forgetting God, and the dimming of the light of holiness. (Orot haKodesh 3:316-17).
Rav Kook points each one of us toward a higher moral vision of sensitivity and care, of love, for every person, for every one of God’s creatures. This love is God-granted, but we can do our part to open our hearts to it, to “prepare a proper place.”
Our world is short on love, kindness and patience. In the United States a cruel murder is being met with further wanton violence and cruelty. How can you heal the violence of racial hatred with violence and racial hatred? Violence is endemic to many countries and cultures around this suffering planet, but this descent into moral depravity in the United States is especially alarming. A democratic culture of respectful dialogue and basic decency has drifted for a while now into polarization and self-righteous indignation, and this is its poison fruit. When political leaders, many of them, are not just ineffectual but part of the problem, inflaming rage on all sides, individuals of good heart need to step up with love and compassion.
When two elders, other than those appointed to be leaders by Moshe Rabbenu, receive prophetic inspiration, and Yehoshua complains that this threatens authorized leadership, Moshe responds:
במדבר פרק יא פסוק כט
ויאמר לו משה המקנא אתה לי ומי יתן כל עם יקוק נביאים כי יתן יקוק את רוחו עליהם:
Moshe said to him: are you jealous on my account? Would that it were that all God’s people were prophets, that God would place His spirit upon them.
We are all called upon to be moral leaders. Hillel says in Pirkei Avot:
משנה מסכת אבות פרק ב
במקום שאין אנשים השתדל להיות איש:
In a place where there are no menschen, try to be a mensch.
Rabbi Shmuel Edels explains:
מהרש”א חידושי אגדות מסכת ברכות דף סג עמוד א
במקום שאין איש לעסוק בצרכי צבור השתדל את עצמך להיות איש עוסק בצרכי צבור
Where there is no one engaging in the real needs of the public, exert yourself to be a person dealing with the real needs of the public.
I pledge allegiance to the planet Earth, and to the Universe in which it stands, one Creation, under God, indivisible, with love and compassion for all.