“The self is not built to carry its own weight.” – Roy Baumeister, social psychologist
The Jewish people are hard to please. Apparently against all odds they have escaped from Egyptian slavery, as is described in the Torah narrative of Exodus. Having had a time to rest and recover from that fearful event all during the book of Leviticus, they are now invigorated – and complaining.
There isn’t enough food.
The food isn’t good enough.
There isn’t enough water.
The water isn’t good enough.
Are we there yet?
Let’s go back to Egypt.
Bless him, even Moshe Rabbenu was not always up to the task of staying positive in the face of the real challenges of leadership. And so in this week’s parashah we see him telling HaShem
לֹא-אוּכַל אָנֹכִי לְבַדִּי, לָשֵׂאת אֶת-כָּל-הָעָם הַזֶּה
“I cannot by myself alone bear all this people.”
– Moses, BaMidbar 11.14
After Nirvana, the laundry, goes the Buddhist saying. If we are able to maintain the same equanimity in both situations, all will be well. But for most of us, the valleys of life where we spend most of our time cause us to quickly forget the moments of peak experience. After the giving of the Torah, the Israelites are saying, what have you done for us lately?
And they’re right. Leadership requires constancy, and respect for the vagaries of human existence. And Moses is right: no one person can fulfill all of another human being’s needs.
This moment of extremis for Moshe does not cause him to back away from leadership, though, but to envision a different kind of leadership. Seventy of the Israelites, those who have demonstrated their own capacity for leadership, are called forth and
וַיָּאצֶל מִן-הָרוּחַ אֲשֶׁר עָלָיו, וַיִּתֵּן עַל-שִׁבְעִים
HaShem drew upon the spirit that was upon Moshe and shared it with the seventy.
– BaMidbar 11.25
Moshe is called the humblest of leaders, and this week we see why. His servant Joshua protests that others, even outside these 70, are acting as if they have divine authority along with Moshe. The true leader’s response is not Joshua’s – to restrict access to the divine – but to recognize it where it is true, and lift it up:
הַמְקַנֵּא אַתָּה לִי; וּמִי יִתֵּן כָּל-עַם יְהוָה, נְבִיאִים
“Don’t worry about my authority. Would that all the people were prophets!”
– BaMidbar 11. 29
May we come to understand Torah’s teaching here: that none of us is expected to lead alone, and that all of us may be possessed of something that others will respond to. It is the people as a whole who carry the Presence of HaShem, not any one of us.
It’s up to us together to create the holiness of a community. May we learn to respect the complaints and the compliments along the way as necessary learning, as we learn what it means to truly be a meaningful, intentional, blessed community.