Shabbat Shalom with a Heart-Healthy Dose of Torah – Emor

Perhaps the line that appears most often in the Torah reads, “God said to Moses, Speak to the people …” It was Moses’ job to teach people. To transmit the teaching from God to the people and back, and to create and foster meaningful relationships with the community … these are Moses’ tasks, whether or not he feels compelled to oblige.

We first meet Moses as he was adjuring the guards not to oppress the people. He takes Pharaoh to task (under God’s orders) for not freeing Israel. This week, he is instructed to … instruct the priests on how to maintain their purity so as not to desecrate God. These instructions did not include anything about the task of the priest, but only the admonition to not become impure. If I am in Aaron’s shoes, this is harsh and it stings a little. Now, Moses is a priest. He is a Levite, and the entire tribe of Levi are priests. His brother, however, gets to be the High Priest (Kohain), while the rest of Levi are second class priests (priest “wannabes”). So, we have a second class priest telling the first class priest how to be a first class priest.

I am accustomed to watching the second string Quarterback (football) instruct the first stringer on what he sees happening on the field. From the sidelines and form the booth upstairs, there are better vantage points from which to see the game play out. However, there is a whole lot more at stake with offerings at the altar than there is playing for a touchdown, but a take away from both is that one does not have to be out front to know the material well enough to run the show.

Still though, we default to wanting the person in charge to handle our problem, ignoring the reality that the support team often knows more than the person in charge. Moses was the teacher; we literally call him “Moshe Rabbaenu.” Second string quarterbacks make great coaches because they not only know what is happening all over the game, and because they are not the star, they have a healthy dose of humility.

So, I was speaking with a young man who was trying to tell all of his classmates that he was a better tennis player than each of them was. The bantering went back and forth until I took the young man aside and said that true greatness shows itself, but does not speak of itself. If he was that good, he would prove it with his racquet. Talking about how good he is serves only to drive people away.

I know the advice is true, but how often are we compelled to tell people what we can do, because we fear in our heart that no one is paying attention? We are insecure people, and even while we read the words of Torah that we are made in God’s image, too many of us fear that we are actually not living up to that seemingly unfair and high standard. At the same time, we read in the Mishnah, Pirke Avot, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” Some part of our tradition demands that we do stand up for ourselves. So insecurity is wrong … and so is uber-humility. Perhaps Torah is instructing us that truth lies somewhere in between, and that desecration comes when we fall on either side of righteous self awareness so that we speak too much or too little of ourselves.

Moses had to tell his older brother not to desecrate God. He had to walk a fine line to do this. Lording himself over his all-star priest brother would have yielded a disastrous relationship. Holding back, saying nothing would have risked desecration of God. God pushes him to speak to his brother, but in the same admonition, Moses is reminded by God to be careful of the way in which he does so.

We walk a fine line when we try to instruct each other, and the correct answer in how to help is never rooted in who really knows more or who is the one out front. God did not instruct Aaron; God had Moses do it. They were brothers and friends. They trusted each other and could have the difficult conversation between them. We cannot always find ourselves in this type of a relationship when called on to teach another, but we must know that being an effective teacher requires a lot of love and respect from the teacher to the student, to earn the trust of the student … especially when the student is larger in life than is the teacher.

Perhaps Socrates said it the best. He taught students by reflecting their answers back to them, relying on their own sense of right and wrong to guide them in hearing from the mouth of another, the words that they just said. The best way to teach is to trust our students enough to hold them and guide them as they continue growing, honoring them and gaining their trust along the way. AMEN! Let it be so! Shabbat Shalom.