- Posted by Elaine Zecher
- On June 12, 2020
- 0 Comments
Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, our weekly reflection as we make our way towards Shabbat. You can listen to it as a podcast HERE.
These are the words I shared as part of the Annual Gathering Thursday night.
The Israelites were getting used to their new normal. Slaves no more, they had to deal with uncertainty and the risk of forging ahead and not knowing if they would be safe. So, they complained bitterly because they could and they were afraid. They longed for the security of their confined existence where they were sure life must have been much better when they conjured up that they had meat, fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, and onions (and garlic). Even manna that fell from the sky upon the dew tasting like rich cream no longer soothed their anxiety.
This was the circumstance in our Torah portion, Beha-a-lo-techa when God then instructed Moses to gather 70 of the elders. Unlike earlier in the book of Exodus, where gathering the elders meant that Moses would be assisted in making judgments about the law. Here, no reason is given. They would receive the spirit, the ruach, lifted from Moses and placed upon them, like a candle that lights another but whose light is not diminished. Perhaps with the spirit upon them, they could be a force for good throughout the community.
The Torah relays that when this happened vayitnab-oo, the spirit of prophecy engrossed them. It started and then it stopped.
Except for two men named Eldad and Medad, who weren’t even among the original 70. The spirit enveloped them and they did not stop. At first a young lad witnessed their behavior and ran to report them to Moses. Joshua, Moses’ named successor heard the boys’ report and expressed concern.
“Restrain them,” he insisted. But Moses replied. Are you wrought up on my account? Would that all the Eternal’s people were prophets, that the Eternal God put that spirit upon them.” (Numbers 11:29)
What happened here, according to the commentator, Rashi, is that Eldad and Medad received the ruach, the spirit directly from God. They were hardly eager to give it up so quickly. Moses appreciated their enthusiasm and saw them as a model for the rest of the community. Another commentator (Rabbeinu Bahya) added that Moses alluded to a messianic time when their status would be raised to prophets and jealousy would disappear.
We are far from a messianic time of an elevated status of prophecy. And yet, we are in the midst of experiencing tremendous ruach, spirit that feels sacred. We have witnessed it in one another this Spring. That ruach has been powerful and engaging as our community rallied around one another to ensure the spirit did not stop. We have felt the support of one another as we have learned, prayed, and yes, complained together and thus, created an energy that had lifted us to higher levels of understanding and devotion to this synagogue community.
“Would that all the Eternal’s people were prophets, that the Eternal God put that spirit upon them.”
That spirit also surrounds us in this moment enveloping an idea that includes every person. The protests on the streets with the sadness and the fury that murder after murder of people of color like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor reflect a systematic, institutionalized racism embedded into the fabric of our nation calls upon us to eradicate such inhumanity. We heed this call with our spirits churning and commit ourselves within this congregation to listen, to learn, and to act. The yearning of the spirit is an unstoppable force.
So may it be as we gather on this auspicious evening of celebrating the power and spirit of our community of Temple Israel of Boston.