Tying Up Some Loose Ends

Stephen Richer
Tying Up Some Loose Ends
June 15, 2010

I’m a Torah portion behind, but before I get to this, there’s a few loose ends in previous portions that I want to tie up.  I’m not going to provide too much of the context, but hopefully they make sense when referencing my past posts or, even better, the Torah portion under examination.

Numbers 13:1 – 15:41

Original post here.

Margaret Thatcher was my type of politician.  She was tough on a foreign policy, and her domestic policies were drive by her belief in the free market.  One of her most memorable concepts is the “ownership society.”  Simply put, if you give people a stake in society, they will want to work harder and do better.

According to Rabbi Teitelbaum of Sixth and I Synagogue, the Torah beat the Prime Minister to the punch on this one.  In the Torah portion Shelach, the scouts return to the Israelites after their reconnaissance mission in the holy land, and Moses asks them:

1)      “the people who inhabit it; are they strong or weak?  Are there few or many?” (Num 13:18)

2)      The people again. “Are there few or many?” (13:18)

3)      “And what of the cities in which they reside are they in camps or in fortresses?” (13:19)

4)      “And what of the land they inhabit?  Is it good or bad?  What is the soil like[?] [I]s it fat or lean?  Are there any trees in it or not?” (13:19 – 13:20)

Rabbi Teitelbaum claims that the first three questions are perfectly reasonable—they’re exactly what you’d want to know for a planned invasion.  But the fourth question deserves greater scrutiny.  Discounting the idea of siege/starvation warfare (and it would be very hard at this point in history to encircle an entire land with a limited number of soldiers—the Israelites numbered 600,000 at this point), asking about the land doesn’t make much sense.

Rabbi T explains Moses’ action through the concept of ownership.   By asking the Israelites to think about the fertile land, and the milk, and the honey, he gives them ownership in the battle.  They will be fighting for something that they feel connected to, that they feel they have stake in.  Once this is done, the Israelites are owners, and like British owners, once they have a vested interest, they will work harder and do better.

Numbers 8:1 – 12:16

When I wrote about Behaalotecha two weeks ago, I took a stab at how authority can be properly challenged.  But Behaalotecha also teaches leaders about the importance of delegating.  Even Moses couldn’t manage everything on his own.  After pulling a couple all-nighters and working five weekends in a row (except Shabbat of course), Moses throws up his hands and tells God, “Alone I cannot carry this entire people for it is too hard for me.”

The solution?

“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Assemble for Me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the people’s elders and officers, and you shall take them to the Tent of Meeting, and they shall stand there with you.  I will come down and speak with you there, and I will increase the spirit that is upon you and bestow it upon them.  Then they will bear the burden of the people with you so that you need not bear it alone.’”  (Num. 11:16 – 11:17)

In short, Moses delegates some of his work to seventy men.  This is straight out of GTJ co-founder Aaron Wolff’s playbook, whose two favorite sayings are: “We’re creating space,” and, “We’re creating leaders.”  Yes, Aaron has lots of good ideas on his own, but if when he spends his time empowering three other leaders, then the community benefits from the leadership of three people, not just one.

Furthermore, one player can only take a team so far.  Think of Kobe Bryant in the year after Shaq left—he tried to run the team by himself, and the Lakers missed the playoffs.  Now with Gasol and Bynum, they’re in the NBA finals every year.  The same could be said about Paul Pierce and the Boston Celtics pre and post Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Rajon Rondo.  It’s also a common saying in sports that a truly great player makes everyone around him into better players/leaders (in this instance, think of Larry Bird who made Kevin McHale and Robert Parish into superstars).

But how is the original leader supposed to act to these newly formed leaders?

The portion explains this too:

“The lad ran and told Moses, saying ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp!’

Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ servant from his youth, answered and said, ‘Moses, my master, imprison them!’

Moses said to him, ‘Are you zealous for my sake? If only all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would bestow His spirit upon them!’  (Num. 11:26 – 11:29)

The original leader should celebrate the growth of his pupils.  It doesn’t detract from the greatness of the original leader, and the community benefits from another person who is willing to assume leadership responsibilities.  Twenty-first Century bosses should be pleased when a young worker takes on new initiatives and responsibilities, the boss shouldn’t jealously reprimand him for his zeal.

Numbers 8:1 – 12:16

Real quickly, another part in Behaalotecha that bears mentioning is chapter 10, verse 2:

“Make yourself two silver trumpets; you shall make them [from a] beaten [form]; they shall be used by you to summon the congregation and to announce the departure of the camps.”

We, the Jewish people, should be proud and unafraid.  We should not sneak about, hoping to avoid attention.  Rather, when we walk into an area, we should blow silver trumpets to announce our arrival.  “Here are the proud Jews; let all who challenge them now stand up.”

My Jewish history teacher told me that he liked Ariel Sharon because, “where he walked, the ground shook.”  Same idea.  Let’s create a Jewish people that makes waves, that sounds trumpets, and that never has to hide again.

Leviticus 25:1 – 27:34

See original post here.

Chapter 27, verses 5 and 6:

“And if [the person is] from five years old until twenty years old, the value of a male shall be twenty shekels, while that of a female shall be ten shekels;

And if [the person is] from one month old until five years old, the value of a male shall be five silver shekels, while the value of a female shall be three silver shekels;”

I’ve always found the Torah to be extremely compatible with my Republican principles.  It respects established wisdom; it purports the rule of law, and it makes clear the limits of social engineering and the power of man to rule over his fellow man.

But my free market principles are seemingly tossed out the window in these two verses.  Why does God have to establish prices for workers/serfs?  Why not let supply and demand determine the price?  The entire Jewish religion is based on man’s discernment between right and wrong, good and bad.  Surely if man is capable of making such lofty moral decisions then he is capable of negotiating prices… right?

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