Parashat Behaalotecha

Suppose someone told you that you are no longer good for what you have dedicated your whole life to; what would you do? How would you react?

What if you realized that what they are really telling you is that you are not good at what you thought you were?

Perhaps you would be angry with that person. Perhaps you would brush him off or you would avoid seeing him in in your everyday life.

None of these reactions would help to change the fact that perhaps there is something in you that could be corrected. You could possibly do things better than you are doing them. Or it could come to the painful situation that you really must leave your place to another.

The Torah shows us the master of masters, Moshe Rabeinu, at a time in his life when he is exhausted; tired of the claims; aged and surely with less strength. Apparently, God wants to let you know in subtle ways. He asks him to gather 70 elders, wise men of the town, who are going to be infected with Moshe's ability and sensitivity to understand divine designs. These wise men will be the ones helping Moshe in the coming years to lead, educate, judge and accompany the people in their stay in the desert.

Moshe chose the seventy elders and, as the Torah tells us, God took from the spirit that was on Moshe and placed it on the seventy men.

Rashi is the one who asks centuries later: "What is Moshe like in his attitude?"—and he answers: “To a candle that lights a candlestick. All the candles take fire from it and the first one does not lose its heat because of it.”

And the story continues. Two of the 70 elders, Eldad and Meidad, stayed in the camp with the people instead of going to the place assigned to the group of 70. As Rashi goes on, they told the people that they could prophesy how Moses would die in the desert and it would be Joshua who would enter the Promised Land.

These words reached the ears of Joshua himself, who immediately went to tell Moshe, with the best intention of taking care of him and also that the elders would be punished.

Moshe's response, once again, had more to do with the greatness and warmth of a wise teacher than with the human feeling of revenge and anger: “Are they jealous of me? I wish all the people had the ability to prophesy so that God may be with His spirit among them.”

In other words, he gives them the kindness of a great teacher who understands that his time to teach and command has become that of one who recognizes his place and leaves the task to be undertaken to others. Heat that is shared and the assignment that is delegated: difficult works both.

And how did Moses transmit his fire? It is not easy at all; it is the real challenge for a teacher. You can have the fire and you can have another unlit candle next to it, but it is not easy to get a spark in it. If you give it too much of your fire, it can be burned. If you give it too little heat, it won't have enough energy to power up. That was one of Moshe's wisdoms: to be able to transmit the fire of Judaism to many people without burning them, and in effect achieving that transmission. He managed to light the fire in each of them.

It is our challenge as teachers, as parents, as a community, to find a way to illuminate and ignite in our students, children and members the passion for the People of Israel, our tradition and its values. To begin with, we must keep the spark of Judaism alive within ourselves, and then decide how we will light other candles. That's what tradition is about; to light candles from generation to generation, and that each candle can shine, give warmth and illuminate the surroundings. It is our challenge to follow in the footsteps of our teacher Moshe.

This week's Haftarah ends by saying: "It is not with force, nor is it with power, but with my spirit, Adonai Tzevaot has said" (Zechariah 4:6). It is not with force or power that we will be able to transmit our great treasure, but through the spirit, with love, dedication and passion. The same with any of other ways of thinking or living that we want to transmit to others. Surely Moshe's role model has to do with recognizing when it is time to distribute tasks seeking the common good, understanding that the sum of wills, the sum of hands working for the same purpose and the sum of ideas are essential to live in Community.

Gustavo Geier