We are all individuals, but we all need somebody to lean on

Simon M. Jackson and Gina Junger wrote this weeks Divrei Torah, for Naso and Beha'alotcha respectively, due to the different readings in the Diaspora and Israel.

Tags: Torah MiZion
Torah Mitzion Torani Tzioni Movement

Judaism Torah Mitzion Beit Midrash
Torah Mitzion Beit Midrash

We’re All Individuals: Parashat Naso

By Simon M. Jackson, Legal Adviser to Torah MiTzion

Le’Zecher Marat Chaya Chana bat Yona HaCohen

Knowing as we do how careful and sparing the Torah is in its use of words, it is particularly surprising to read (and even harder for the Ba’al Keriah to maintain everyone’s interest when reading!) of how each leader’s identical celebratory offering in honor of the Mishkan is repeated no less than 12 times by the Torah, in identical language. Indeed, our parasha is the longest in the entire Torah, with a grand total of 176 verses (the same number of verses as in the longest Psalm (119) and the same number of folios as the longest tractate in the Talmud Bavli – Bava Batra)!
“Lift the Head”
Nehama Leibowitz suggests that the Torah thus emphasizes “the importance and uniqueness of the individual, repudiating the ideology that regards the human being as a cog in a vast machine and as an indistinguishable member of a mass.”
Or as Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks eloquently puts it: “In any census, count or roll-call there is a tendency to focus on the total: the crowd, the multitude, the mass… any nation tends to value the group or nation as a whole. The larger the total, the stronger is the army, the more popular the team, and the more successful the company”.
However, “Counting devalues the individual and tends to make him or her replaceable. If one soldier dies in battle, another will take his place. If one person leaves the organization, someone else can do his or her job… people in a crowd become anonymous. Their conscience is silenced. They lose a sense of personal responsibility… G-d tells Moshe to ‘lift people’s heads’ (as in the beginning of our parsha – naso et rosh) by showing that they each count; they matter as individuals… We each have unique gifts. There is a contribution only I can bring. To lift someone’s head means to show them favor, to recognize them. It is a gesture of love.”
Perhaps this is why, in last week’s parsha, in the census taken of the people, the Torah counts each person, not only by number, but by name – “be’mispar shemot” Bemidbar 1:2. In the words, of the Akedat Yitzchak, each individual “has an importance all his own, like a king or priest, and this is the reason why they were all mentioned by name. They were all equal in station, but uniquely separate in their equality.”
Different People – Different Intentions
Ramban cites the Midrash, which explains, inter alia, that the idea occurred to each one of the leaders independently to bring a dedication offering for the Altar, and that it should be of the particular size detailed in the verses. However, Nachshon, the prince of the tribe of Judah, intended with this amount one reason (reflecting the succession of monarchy), and independently of him each of the other leaders intended this same amount for a separate reason (Netanel of the tribe of Yisachar offered his donation as a symbol of the Torah, while the leader of Zevulun offered his donation in correspondence to the fact that his tribe would engage in maritime commerce, and from its earnings sustain Yisachar and take an equal reward with him in the Torah study engendered; etc.)
“Although the gifts all shared common explicit language, the thoughts and emotions behind each gift differed from prince to prince. Each lent a different kavanah, a distinct unspoken meaning, to his gifts. And that meaning was based upon the unique nature of each prince and the tribe he represented. The gifts were all the same; the underlying intentions were as different as one can imagine. The lyrics were identical; the melody, different” (Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb).
Going With the Flow
Rabbi Levi ben Gershon (RaLBaG), a French commentator and philosopher living around the same time as the Ramban, suggests a very different answer. Ralbag notes the ethical lesson that the Torah is impressing upon us: “It is not appropriate for a person (X) to deviate from his fellows’ behavior, when they have agreed to carry out a certain beneficial activity, to enable him to lord it above them or to shame them, when people will say: X acted in this manner, while Y and Z only did this. Therefore, the Torah went out of its way to relate the contributions of the princes, each of which were equal; none of them deviated from his fellows’ behavior, and for this reason their intentions approximated those of God Himself.
Our parsha indicates that the Torah sanctions individualistic behavior (consider the examples of the convert, the Cohen, the Nazirite etc.), and the need, at times, to go against the trend. However, one should not act differently purely for the sake of being different. Where there is no good reason to think otherwise, one can and should assume that the majority is right and worthy of emulation.

We all need someone to lean on: Parashat Beha'alotcha 

By Gina Junger, member of the Shivtei Yisrael community in Ra'anana

Everyone has their breaking point; when they feel they just can't handle the task they are given. Even Moshe Rabeinu! In this week's parsha when the Jewish people had a "craving" for meat Moshe complained to Hashem,"From where do I have meat to give to these crying people?" Moshe compared himself to a nursemaid who carries a child (the Jewish people) in her arms.

From the recent complaining of the people it sounds like Moshe had to be more of a "babysitter" than a spiritual leader. Moshe finally announced that he couldn't go on alone. "I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me

לא אוכל אנכי לבדי לשאת את כל העם הזה ממני...

Hashem's response to Moshe is very interesting. He doesn't say, יהיה בסדר - it will be fine. He says “Bring Me 70 men from Israel known to you as elders and officers of the people. Take them to the tent of meeting and have them stand there with you. Then I will come down and speak with you there. I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put the Spirit on them. They will help you bear the burden of the people, so that you do not have to bear it by yourself." 

Hashem recognized that even if Moshe was perfectly capable of leading on his own, as soon as he felt that he could not go on, then Hashem needed to provide for Moshe support. The seventy elders didn't have any power that Moshe did not have .In fact, their leadership came from “the "ruach" that was upon Moshe.

Rashi uses the parable of the candle. Moshe is the lit candle; the 70 Elders, who until now have not “been lit”, will now have their wicks kindled by Moshe’s candle. However, this in no way lessens “the light of Moshe’s candle.” These 70 elders seem to be put in place to give emotional support to Moshe. 

We are all familiar with the expression in English "two heads are better than one". The meaning of "heads" is minds and it means that two people can often solve a problem better than one person. But in Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) Shlomo HaMelech expresses this idea differently. "Two are better than one, since they have good reward for their toil .For if they fall, one will lift up his friend…"

טובים השניים, מן-האחד. אשר יש להם שכר טוב בעמלם. כי אם ייפולו, האחד יקים את-חברו

The reason that "two are better than one" says Shlomo HaMelech, is that one can be there for the other when one falls down and "pick him up" both physically and emotionally.  Bill Withers sang "You just call on me brother, when you need a hand. We all need somebody to lean on".

If even Moshe needed someone to "lean on" then let's try to offer support to those around us before they reach their breaking point.