Dvar Torah delivered by Mike Garmise on 10th Tamuz 5775, 27th June 2015
Time goes by so slowly, yet time can do so much, like leap over a decade, or two or four. We blinked this week and suddenly our story today has leapt forward 36 or 38 years from the debacle with Korach and his terrestialization. But you don’t feel it because the same old themes keep regurgitating. Discontent among the people, lack of food or water or an excess of sand. Even some commentators miss the time lapse but it’s there.
Miriam has just died and with her goes the water, according to the midrash, so the people pump up the same old mantra. Would that we had died with our brethren before God. Before God? That’s new. And why did you bring God’s people to this desert to die, we and our livestock? And why did you lift us out of Egypt, to bring this to this bad place; not a place of figs and vines and pomegranates – and there’s no water to drink!
Do you notice the new motifs here? God’s people – they are identifying themselves as God’s people. You took us out of Egypt – a fact, not the usual litany of how great the onions and squash and watermelons were there. No! And here’s the real tip-off. This is not a place of figs and vines and pomegranates, three of the fruits for which the Promised Land, Canaan, was known.
In other words, these are not the former slaves talking. They’re all dead. These are their children, and yes, they were raised with stories of Egypt but more importantly with stories about the land towards which they were headed. The land in which they would revel in the fruits and grains and oils. And they are upset, justly upset, because they are not there and because they need water.
And as has happened before, when the complaint is justified, God accedes immediately. But Moshe – omniscient Moshe somehow misses it. Maybe he’s losing it. Maybe it’s just too many frustrations and troubles over the years. We don’t know what happened between the story of Korach and Miriam’s death, it’s not described, but we can assume he had to bear a lot of guff from the people. And it begins to pile up, like plaque in your arteries. He’s heard this complaint before, and so have we. In fact, right after the splitting of the Red Sea Moshe was told to strike a rock to bring forth water. So how is this case different?
What’s different is that Moshe still perceives the masses as ingrates, as people who are angry at having been taken out of Egypt. But these are their kids. Some of them may have been born in Egypt but they were younger than twenty when they left (or they’d be dead now). So, their frustration is directed more towards what they have been promised and have not yet received and much less towards what they have purportedly lost. Moshe’s eyes see them but his mind sees their parents.
As organizational psychologists note, a company needs two types of heads. One is the leader, the one who with a vision of the final objective, who imbues the people with that vision and leads them to their goal. Once they get there, what they need is a manager, a person with the abilities to implement the plan of action envisioned by the first one. Our story today gives us a strong intimation that the age of Moshe and the need for his presence are rapidly coming to an end.
We too are also changing. We have been in our land for less than a microscopic dot on the timeline of history but for us, it feels like eternity. When we made Aliya, the soldiers celebrated Yom Haatzmaut in the streets drinking Tempo Cola, not beer. And if beer – non-alcoholic black beer. Today beer is the least of our worries.
Along with the rest of the world, we have become more extreme in our views and how we express them. We have less patience for people who disagree with us and are more vehement in how we express this disagreement. Violence draws media attention. The church on the Kineret that was torched this week, for example. The demonstration by Ethiopians this week, the third in number, was supposed to be more violent because the younger leaders felt, correctly, unfortunately, that if they demonstrated peacefully they would barely make page 15 of the newspaper. Well, semi-peacefully they made the first page, but only for one day.
We have elected officials many of whom seem to care more about their own pockets than the welfare of those they were elected to serve (which has always been true, but not as publically acknowledged as today). We have internal security personnel who have done their utmost to undermine our faith in them. We have religious leaders who, according to a newspaper expose this week, care more about the fate of a yeshiva bochur or a rebbi and his family than boys or girls who may have been molested by these supposedly holy people. In other words, our values seem somewhat askew.
What to do about this state of affairs? Always the same question. And answer. It’s complicated. What did Moshe do? After being informed of their demise prior to entering the land, they waged two successful wars, against Edom and then Sichon and the Emorites. The dogs bark but the caravan goes on – like it or not, you gotta do what you gotta do.
It’s just lucky that the Edomites and Emorites were not members of the UN or a lengthy report would have been written and we would have been censured for excessive use of force, war crimes and beating up on two nations simply because they attacked u. In other words, it’s not only our values that seem somewhat askew.
And as the French critic Alphonse Karr said, the more things change – the more they stay the same. And that’s good news, because it means that in the end, we win.