Adrian A. Durlester

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Random Musings Before Shabbat
B'ha'alot'kha 5770

Ten years later, I think it's time to revisit this musing for parashat Beha'alot'kha. Next week, I'm off to Oconomowoc, Wisconsin for the annual Hava Nashira Songleading workshop at Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute Camp. Then, I'll be staying on at camp for the summer serving as one of the two Media specialists. I plan to keep up with my weekly musings, my blogging, my tweeting, etc. while at camp, though I might not be able to keep up the same pace. Technology has come a long way since I last spent an entire summer at OSRUI in the mid-90s. Back then, I had to pay to have a phone line installed by the phone company to my room in camp in order to have dial-up service to get online!

Random Musing Before Shabbat - B'ha'alot'kha 5760


When did we learn to fear passion, to learn to let go and let G"d's spirit flow freely in us ands through us?

Is it our modern, technological, scientific orientation that leads us to view ecstatic experiences as alien, bizarre, neurotic? Even I find myself sometimes questioning an epiphanal moment wondering if sleep deprivation or mass hysteria is a better explanation. For myself, I know better, but the doubt remains. And how much more so, I fear, for those with even less secure faith than my own.

Look at how we classify people engaged in ecstatic practices. We immediately think of snake handlers, speaking in tongues (and, as our parasha reminds us, this is not an idea that originated with Xtianity,) shaking, quaking, dancing, whirling, chanting, shouting, crying. We might even imagine our Hasidic Jewish co-religionists in fervent worship. Because we are suspicious of it, we might not think of it as ecstasy, and try and give it more "Jewish-sounding" names, but walk into some Hasidic services and I assure you you'll see some ecstatic worship. We easily dismiss the passion of our Xtian friends. We say "What a bunch of nut cases" or "losers" or ignoramuses" or "suckers." Some criticize our Hasidic brothers and sisters for their fervor by asking what their fervor contributes to the world - does it do more good than working for social justice. "Don't spend so much time clinging to Gd, and a little more time helping out here on earth," they might say.

We are not alone in our judging of ecstatic worship or behavior. As our parasha says:

Bemidbar 11: 26 Two men, one named Eldad and the other Medad, had remained in camp; yet the spirit rested upon them--they were among those recorded, but they had not gone out to the Tent--and they spoke in ecstasy in the camp. 27 A youth ran out and told Moses, saying, "Eldad and Medad are acting the prophet in the camp!" 28 And Joshua son of Nun, Moses' attendant from his youth, spoke up and said, "My lord Moses, restrain them!" 29 But Moses said to him, "Are you wrought up on my account?

Fervor, ecstasy, call it what you will, has a purpose, a meaning, and is, in my opinion, efficacious. As Moshe Rabbeinu goes on to say:

11:29b Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, that the Lord put His spirit upon them!

We often don't like prophets because what they have to say makes us uncomfortable. It should, and it is supposed to. Fact of the matter is, it wouldn't make us uncomfortable unless we did have some guilt or concern or failing or worry or nagging doubt. I suggest the same is just as true of the ecstatic among us.

Many Jews today, unsure of their own beliefs, unskilled and often not as learned as they could be (whether by choice or circumstance) in their own religious tradition, fear, resent, and often lash out at those who seem to know more, or be more observant, or act ecstatically or passionately in their worship. But is it a fear and resentment mixed with jealousy as well? Have the ecstatic among us achieved what far too many feel they can't achieve?

That is the truly sad part. Far too many no longer believe they can ever achieve some sort of reasonable passionately spiritual plane of existence. However, this power is not lost to us. It has always been within our grasp, and will always be so. It requires, sometimes, stepping outside our paradigms, pressing the "edge of the envelope," stepping through the looking glass. This is scary-we fear loss of comfort and security, and are unwilling to risk that, even when we feel an emptiness in our lives that perhaps only G"d and ecstatic love can fill.

Faith. This is what we lack. And also what we need most. Faith requires trust. The willingness to step into the unknown. To let the spirit of G"d flow in us and through us and out of us. To be ecstatic, passionate, fervent, joyful. Is it possible to love G"d with all our heart and soul and do any less?

No, let us not fear the ecstatic among us. Let us become them. All of us.

11:29b Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, that the Lord put His spirit upon them!

Ken y'hi ratson. Ken y'hi ratsoneinu.

Shabbat Shalom,

© 2010, 2000 by Adrian A. Durlester

Some previous Musings on this parasha

B'ha'alot'kha 5766 - Vay'hi Binsoa - Movin' Out, Movin' On
B'ha'alot'cha 5765-Unintended Results?
Beha'alotekha 5762 - Redux 5759 - The Kiss of Moshe

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