Parashat Beha’alotcha (Outside Israel) | Shlach (Israel)
June 10, 2023 | 17 Sivan 5783
Torah (Outside Israel): Numbers 8:1-12:16
Triennial: Numbers 8:1-9:14 Haftorah: Zechariah 2:14-4:7
Torah (Israel): Numbers 13:1-15:41 Haftorah: Joshua 2:1-24
Shabbat Shalom from Bruce Washburn:
Caring for others is a calling, but to avoid burnout, it requires caring for oneself first. What are you doing with the intention of being stronger?
Here is this week’s D’var Torah:
Amen to Omen
We start complaining in this parashah. We’re hungry, manna is no good, and life was better back in Egypt. Hearing our complaints, Moses begins to complain too. How is he supposed to deal with the likes of us? He is not equipped to fulfill our needs, to respond to our complaints. Moses says to God, “Why have You done evil to Your servant, and why have I not found favor in Your eyes, to put the burden of all this people upon me? Did I conceive all this people, did I give birth to them, that You should say to me, ‘Bear them in your lap, as the guardian bears the infant,’ to the land that You swore to their fathers?’”
Moses does not want to be our mother. He claims he is not our mother, not responsible for making sure we are fed. He explains that even if he now stands as leader of the Israelite people, he has not been around for our entire gestational period. He should not be tasked with acting as our creator, our giver and sustainer of life.
Of course, the one who we should be citing as our mother is God. God is in fact our creator, the one who birthed us into being. Much later, in Parashat Haazinu, Moses will refer to God as “the Rock who gave birth to us” and “the God who writhed in labor with us.” God often reminds us that God created us. We read in Isaiah of God speaking to us as God’s sons and daughters, drilling into us that God created us and formed us as Israel.
It is absurd to imagine Moses into this role, to recast him as the mother of the Israelite people. He is one of us, he is human too. Clearly, God is the one who has conceived of the idea of the Israelites and brought us into being. So how then are we to understand the role of Moses? If not our mother, what is he?
Moses says in our parashah that God is suggesting he be our guardian, bearing us like an infant. The word for guardian here is אמן, oman. We read it recently in the Book of Ruth, when Naomi takes Ruth’s child and, mirroring the language in our parashah, “bears him in her lap,” becoming his omenet. The women of her town cry out that a son has been born to Naomi. Likewise, Mordechai is described as the omen of Ester because she had neither father nor mother. The word also appears in Isaiah, describing our glorious return from exile, during which foreign kings will serve us as omenim and foreign queens will be our nursemaids. This role of omen cannot be taken lightly. It seems that the omen stands in place of the parents, tending to the child.
To tend to a child is quite an undertaking. The root of omen brings insight into what the tending entails. From the same root as amen, the base meaning of omen is firm, steady, reliable. It is a word used most often to describe God. God is ne’eman, faithful, reliable, enduring and we build God a corresponding house ne’eman, enduring.
The root is also used to describe the people who define the Israelites, who lead us, who epitomize us. We find the root in reference to Abraham, Moses, and David. Abraham has a heart ne’eman so God makes a covenant with him. It is David’s quality of being ne’eman that ensures his line will also be ne’eman, enduring.
Moses is first said to be ne’eman in our parashah. God rebukes Aaron and Miriam, explaining to them that Moses has a unique relationship with God. God says that Moses is God’s most ne’eman in the world. Coming so soon after Moses rejects the role of omen, this confirmation from God is striking. How can Moses cast off the role of omen and yet still be ne’eman? Perhaps, as we read before the rebuke, it is Moses’s humbleness. Moses has no need to be leader, to be mother, to claim God’s role as his own. He gives to God what is God’s. When Moses complains, he complains not for his own sake, but in order to better serve others. He is the ultimate oman, always ne’eman.