Adrian A. Durlester

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Random Musings Before Shabbat-Chukat 5761


Some major changes are taking place in my life. In addition to the approaching CAJE Conference in August for which I am evening program chair, I have accepted a new position and will be relocating out of Nashville (more details when all the i's are dotted and t's are crossed.) In addition, I will be serving as conference chair for CAJE 27 and now have to assemble my team. So between all these responsibilities and still meeting my obligations to camp and the campers here at Nashville's JCC, time will be precious. So some of the next few Shabbat random musings might be retreads, though I am sure I may find some striking connections between the happenings in my life and the happenings in the parashat hashavua that will compel me to find the time to write about them.

This week, a Chukat musing from 5759. But before that, my attention was drawn again this year to Bamidbar 21:13-15, with it's odd reference to and citation from "The Book of the Wars of Gd." I'm ruminating over explanations that don' fall back on historical or textual critical techniques (i.e. that this is an addition by a later redactor to explain some unfamiliar or uncertain geography.) One explanation that came to mind results from focusing on what the primary purpose of this reference was: to emphasize yet again in the text (and has happened several other times) that in their trek towards the promised land, they were respectful of territorial boundaries. And that not just the Israelites, but the Gd was being similarly respectful of these human-drawn boundaries. The Amorites and Moabites might claim that the Israelites intruded on their territory, and Torah uses this citation to refute any such accusation. And somewhere in all this is a connection what's taking place in Israel in these present times. The fact that Gd and Israel were respectful toward the boundaries of established nations seems to be somehow important. I know there's a musing in there, but no time to work it up this year. Perhaps next year...and now, on to Chukat redux from 5759.

Random Musings Before Shabbat - Chukat 5759

Wanting to See More Than The View From The Mountaintop

Perfect faith is a difficult thing. Perfect trust even more so. So it is only natural for human beings to slip up in this area. Moshe Rabbeinu was no exception. Whether from anger, lack or trust, impatience, lack of faith, or a well-intentioned but misplaced desire to help things alone, Moshe struck the rock.

What a powerful metaphor! How often have we become so frustrated with people, even our own children, that the urge to use force rather than verbal persuasion overcomes us. While this is not the time to debate the merits of child-rearing and forms of punishment, the tale of the waters at Meribah is a cautionary one, and should not be ignored as we seek to live our lives in accord with the ways of our Gd.

Perhaps Moshe was acting out of experience. Like him, we too have all learned that sometimes trying to just coax or verbally persuade someone (for example, a Slobadan Milosevic) won't always work. And so we resort to force. Even Gd recognizes this-after all, we weren't told to try and talk the native Canaanites into moving out of the way and letting Israel settle in the promised land.

But we are reaching conclusions before studying the problem. The issue is not whether force is sometimes necessary, but rather that we be sure to first try having faith and seeing if the matter can be resolved without resorting to more than verbal persuasion. This is where Moshe failed, and often where we fail too. We assume talk won't work and we move right on to force. And Moshe had less of an excuse-for Moshe had been told by Gd to just speak to the rock. We're not getting any direct message from Gd lately.

Or are we? Is that not the whole point? Is that not why we read Torah and study it? Why people like me comment on it, seeking to delve into its meanings and mysteries? The lesson is there. The instruction, the teaching, is there. Have faith. Try talking first. That is, if you want to do more than just see your promised land from the top of a hill on the other side.

Have faith. Try talking first. Maybe you'll cross your Jordan. Otherwise, get yourself a good pair of binoculars. And keep yourself in good's a long walk up that mountain - just to see a vista you'll never see up close.

This Shabbat think about what it is in your life that you need or want as much as Israel wanted water and Moshe wanted to give it to them. Then have faith, and try persuading your vision into reality with words-perhaps prayer, perhaps song. And if you're not so perfect at it...well, remember-Moshe screwed up and Gd still made water flow from the rock....

Shabbat Shalom,


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