This week we conclude the reading of the book of Numbers, Bamidbar, reading two portions, Matot and Masaei. The long journey towards the Promised Land is nearing its end. The Haftarah is from Jeremiah where he echoes the pondering of our prophets, “What injustice did your fathers find in Me, That they went far from Me
And walked after emptiness and became empty? They did not say, ‘Where is the Lord Who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, Who led us through the wilderness, Through a land of deserts and of pits, Through a land of drought and of deep darkness, Through a land that no one crossed And where no man dwelt? I brought you into the fruitful land To eat its fruit and its good things. But you came and defiled My land, And My inheritance you made an abomination.” Something went terribly wrong. The journey is long and has its ups and downs but the lesson is not learnt.
The prophet continues to say, “For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, The fountain of living waters, To hew for themselves cisterns, Broken cisterns That can hold no water. It is a double-edged evil, where on one hand there is the desertion of a powerful source, a mighty source, a source of life. On the other hand, there is an attempt to create an illusion of an alternative as if it is better, more meaningful, stronger, but does not hold water, and without it there is no life.
The center of complaint of Jeremiah is not to the people but rather towards its leadership, “The priests did not say, ‘Where is the Lord?’ And those who handle the law did not know Me; The rulers also transgressed against Me, And the prophets prophesied by Baal And walked after things that did not profit.” These words echo a complaint of Moses that we read about when he confronts the tribes of Gad and Reuben who requested to stay on the eastern side of the river Jordan. He in turn reminds them of the sins of their fathers, “This is what your fathers did when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to see the land. For when they went up to the valley of Eshcol and saw the land, they discouraged the sons of Israel so that they did not go into the land which the Lord had given them. So the Lord’s anger burned in that day, and He swore, saying, ‘None of the men who came up from Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob; for they did not follow Me fully, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua the son of Nun, for they have followed the Lord fully.’ So the Lord’s anger burned against Israel, and He made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until the entire generation of those who had done evil in the sight of the Lord was destroyed. Now behold, you have risen up in your fathers’ place, a brood of sinful men, to add still more to the burning anger of the Lord against Israel. For if you turn away from following Him, He will once more abandon them in the wilderness, and you will destroy all these people.”
Fine leadership is critical to the life of a nation, certainly for our nation. It echoes down generations. Responsible leadership does not necessarily go for that which is popular, it does not swing based on the current mood of the voters, or attempts to appease the wealthy. Rather it attempts to keep its sight on the long term, set its eyes towards a safe haven and navigate in that direction, take steps that can successfully bring us there, and to satisfactory results. These days between the 17th of Tamus and the 9th of Av are days where we remember what leadership should and should not be doing when navigating a people. On one hand these days saw leaders bringing the Israelites to the worst of devastations, and on the other hand, those who were able to pave the way towards a new, quite different but vibrant way of living. It allowed first for survival and then to revival.
These are again challenging days. The coronavirus is spreading again in our streets and towns, the number of sick is increasing, and so is the numbers of those who pass away from the illness. From what we hear about the government’s discussions it seems that Jerusalem is in confusion. Programs come and go, committed for execution but the impact seems to vary between little to none. It is no doubt that these are seriously challenging times, however, we do expect from our national leadership to first reach the level of commitment of the public and then significantly surpass it. It must become a light to the nation and then also a light to the nations. Without arrogance or haughtiness, but rather calmly, measured by definitive successes.
Shabbat Shalom and wishes for good health to all.
Reuven Marko, 17 July 2020, 26 Tamuz, 5780