Moses showed strength by recognizing his limits

Rabbi Scott Slarskey is Director of Jewish Life at Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School.

By Rabbi Scott Slarskey

Anyone who has graced the halls of a school knows that the nature of the work within those walls is boundless.  The amount of physical effort, time, and emotional resources that students can invest in learning and that teachers can invest in teaching is without limit.  Happily we give ourselves time away from school to expand our Torah by spending time with other people and involved in different forms of exploration. . . Yeah, did you catch that?  I said “Torah!”  No — I’m not talking (just) about what’s between the rollers on that scroll hiding out in a cabinet at the front of your synagogue.  The Hebrew word “Torah” shares a Hebrew root with the Hebrew words for “Teacher,” “Parent,” and “Guide” and can be loosely translated as “Wise Guidance.” 

In this week’s parasha we catch a glimpse of a Moshe pushed beyond his limits — who could have used some time at camp or with friends.  When he overheard members of the wandering community complain about not having meat to eat, he called out to God, “I am not able, myself alone, to carry this entire people for it is too heavy for me.” (Numbers 11:15)  According to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Moshe was expressing to God tha — though he was capable of receiving Torah and transmitting it — “I cannot form a nation for this Torah for You.”  Hirsch continues, “I cannot exercise the educative and formative mastery over the minds and feelings of the people which would lead them to such a goal.”  Moshe recognized both his abilities to understand and explicate concepts.  He saw his inability to win the hearts and minds of individuals who could form a community to breathe life into this “Wise Guidance.”

The Holy Blessed One responded to Moshe with explicit instructions to gather 70 — a number indicating inclusivity and completeness — elders, who were seen as elders, and who were constitutionally strong enough to withstand the glory and responsibility of prophecy.  

Constructivist educators recognize relationship, context, and community as essential adjuncts in creating an educational milieu wherein students may sharpen their individual understandings of ideas and co-create shared knowledge.  Could we see God as, among other things, a gifted pedagogue?  Perhaps God recognized a loneliness and incompleteness implicit in Moshe’s desperate cry.  Perhaps God appreciated Moshe’s reflective, learning leadership and sought to support Moshe’s own growth.  God therefore endowed Moshe with a community of prophetic, learning leaders.

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Many of us who enjoy a certain level of privilege choose to send our children to camp so that they may learn and lead with people and in settings that differ from the schools they experience.  As a personal exercise in spiritual/personal growth what if we each challenged ourselves to identify our “70 elders?”  If you could gather a complete council of those who you see as respected and prophetic, with whom you would like to share a language of holy, community, learning-service who would these people be?  And how might you begin to make strides to connect with them?