Complaints, more complaints, and even further complaints. God has it easy in these cases, “Now the people became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of the Lord; and when the Lord heard it, His anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.” As if that is not enough, the story continues with even more bickering from the riffraff that came with the Israelites and “had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, ‘Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic’”. God does not take this well either and order Moses to gather “seventy men from the elders of Israel” and bluntly confront them, “Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat; for you have wept in the ears of the Lord, saying, ‘Oh that someone would give us meat to eat! For we were well-off in Egypt.’ Therefore the Lord will give you meat and you shall eat. You shall eat, not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you”.
Moses Forbids the People to Follow Him, c. 1896-1902, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (French, 1836-1902)
Moses does not poses the options that God has and therefore, when he sees the fire at the corner of the camp and the people cry out for help he does not speak to the harshly or indifferently. Rather, when this occurs he prays to God “and the fire died out.” When he is demanded to use cynicism in the case of the meat he does not revert to the People in intolerable language, instead he challenges God, “Why have You been so hard on Your servant? And why have I not found favor in Your sight, that You have laid the burden of all this people on me? Was it I who conceived all this people? Was it I who brought them forth, that You should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom as a nurse carries a nursing infant, to the land which You swore to their fathers’? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me, saying, ‘Give us meat that we may eat!’ I alone am not able to carry all this people, because it is too burdensome for me.” Moses is relentless and adds, “The people, among whom I am, are 600,000 on foot; yet You have said, ‘I will give them meat, so that they may eat for a whole month.’ Should flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, to be sufficient for them? Or should all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, to be sufficient for them?” God’s answer to this is, “Is the Lord’s power limited? Now you shall see whether My word will come true for you or not.”
Moses is in the endless leaders’ trap. He heads an organization and above him stands the body that supervises him, and that body is not always predictable, sometimes agreeable and pleasant, with long term thinking, and sometimes a grumbler, demanding action here and now, and at times even executes without consultation, without thinking, and without considering the long-term impacts of such deeds. Moses is just like the CEO of a company having to handle the pressures of his board of directors on the one hand, and addressing the forces coming from his employees, suppliers and competitors. All need to be dealt with, all have to be addressed and answered to. It is sometimes so frustrating that the CEO may wish to say, just like Moses himself, “if You are going to deal thus with me, please kill me at once, if I have found favor in Your sight, and do not let me see my wretchedness.” The experienced CEO does not really mean that to happen but wishes to regulate the various pressures experienced so that a practical solution is found for the problem at hand.
During our life time we will find ourselves, most likely, in all of the various roles. As CEOs, as the People, and as a director of the board. It happens to us within our families, at work, were we volunteer, and our military service. Sometimes we bicker like the People, complain and protest, forgetting the difficulties of the past and praising it as if it is better than the present as well as the unfolding future. At times we are at the helm and have to make tough decisions with dire consequences. In other cases we are the CEOs, the person trying to balance it all and cause a complex, delicate, demanding trampling system to move from one point of equilibrium to another, moving in constant instability for a period of time. The longer that process of motion takes the greater the period of sickness, dissatisfaction, and loss of patients.
Towards the end of our portion of the Torah God reprimands Miriam and Aron saying, “If there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream. Not so, with My servant Moses, He is faithful in all My household; With him I speak mouth to mouth, Even openly, and not in dark sayings, And he beholds the form of the Lord.” People in leadership positions today are not as fortunate as Moses, not even as fortunate as the Prophets, both do not exist on earth anymore. Therefore such leaders lack that kind of Godly mentorship. However we do have the scriptures and from them we should learn that like Moses we must defend those whom, we lead and challenge those who are of the capacity to oversee us. It seems unfortunate that much of today’s political leadership seems to reversing this order.
Reuven Marko, 14 June 2019, 12 Sivan, 5779