Wednesday, June 25, 2014

One Step Done and Another Begun (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia - "New Speedway Boogie)

Our children finally completed the school year. Our 13 year old daughter just graduated from 8th grade. All week, we have been purchasing clothing, toiletries and sundry camp items in order to get our three adolescent children packed and ready for camp. For the past week our 13 year old has been studying for a few final exams and focusing on a strong academic finish. When we have offered to help her to label clothing and help her pack for camp, well let’s just say she had difficulty focusing upon both preparing for final exams and packing.  Needless to say, the final 24-36 hours prior to her departure for camp, was filled with high drama and tension because she insisted that she knew what was required in order to pack for camp, she insisted that she knew how to label and pack for camp, and that she did not want any help.  While I thought that this growing sense of independence was commendable, I just about blew a gasket when I would see her watching something stupid on TV or wasting time on the computer instead of focusing upon the task at hand. Yes, our daughter might have graduated from 8th grade, but she just starting the process of growing up. She has a long way to go. Yet, she has taken a first step.

This Shabbat we read from Parsha Chukkat. God gives Moshe the Law of the Red Heifer. Miriam dies. The well that provided water for Bnai Yisroel due to her merit, dried up. Moshe and Aharon have the unfortunate incident of asking God for water, striking the rock rather than speaking to the rock and then are told that neither will enter into Eretz Canaan. The people get water. Bnai Yisroel fights Edom and wins. Aharon dies, and his son replaces him as Kohen Gadol. Amalek attacks and Bnai Yisroel fights back and wins. Bnai Yisroel complains about the fact that they have to take another detour and food seems scarce. God gets angry and punishes them with fiery serpents. Bnai Yisroel pleads for forgiveness. They travel some more and arrive at the border of the Amorites and the Moabites.  Bnai Yisroel asks Sihon, Amorite King, permission to pass through his land. He refuses and instead chooses to fight Bnai Yisroel. Bnai Yisroel fights and beats King Sihon and his Amorite army.  The parsha concludes with Bnai Yisroel encamped on the Plains of Moab on the eastern side of the Jordan River opposite Jericho. 

Yes, a lot things occur in this Parsha, however it is important to realize that nearly 38 years passed between the start of the Parsha, and the conclusion of the Parsha.  Somewhere in the Parsha, those born in the wilderness, or those that were very young at the time of Yetziat Mitzrayim, reached adulthood, they developed physically, they developed emotionally, and they developed spiritually. This generation’s growth and development spiritually is not a straight line gradually going up at a 20 degree angle. There are stops and starts, there are moments of growth, there are moments of regression and there are moment of plateauing.  Yet it is Parsha Chukkat which contains within it a transition of nearly forty years, a period of time in which a generation grew up.  However there is one small narrative that occurs which serves as the first indication that this generation is growing up, graduating. No it is not too terribly a large accomplishment but it is the first step.  Miriam had died, the incident with the water and the rock had occurred. Clearly there was a transition of leadership that was in process. Aharon just died and his son Elazar had just been anointed Kohen Gadol.  Bnai Yisroel weeps and mourns for Aharon.  Then the Canaanite king of Arad attacks Israel and takes a captive. At this point we are told that Vayidar Yisroel Neder L’Adoshem, VaYomer Im Noton Titen Et Ha’Am HaZeh B’Yadi, VHaChaRaMti Et AreihemIf You will deliver this people into my hand, I will consecrate their cities.” (Num21:2)  God listens, and delivers the enemy into Israel’s hand. Israel consecrates the cities to God.  There is no complaining. There is no whining. There is only an expression of faith during an anxious moment, and “if, then” vow. For the first time, Bnai Yisroel acts as one people, hence the use of the singular rather than the plural. For the first time, Bnai Yisroel appeals to God directly. For the first time, Bnai Yisroel doesn’t expect something for nothing, rather they are willing to do something in return - VHaChaRaMti et Areihem, I will consecrate their cities. Certainly, they still have some spiritual growing up to do, but this was their first step towards being a people of spiritual maturity and faith.
An 8th graduation is not a very big deal as far as graduations go. As parents our “graduation bar” has been set a little higher: graduation from college/university, and hopefully graduate school.  However, as our daughter walked across the stage to receive her “diploma”, I smiled proudly knowing that I just saw her take her first steps towards intellectual maturity and emotional maturity. Yes there will be some regression; there will be stops and starts, and perhaps resting upon a plateau or two.  However, both she and I understood the significance of the small and seemingly insignificant first step. She understood that she took the smallest steps towards independence and growing up.  

Rav Yitz

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