Friday, August 19, 2016

One People, One Path, One God: An ancient (and modern) tale about a boy and a leader - Parashat Vaet'chanan - August 19, 2016

Jacob was always dreaming. 
No, not THAT Jacob. 
You see, Jacob was 11, going on 12 – some said he was going on 30, or even 120, like the leader of his people, Moses.
As his people, the Israelites, were encamped on the threshold of the land of Canaan, Jacob was impatient.  He said to his parents, Benjamin and Rachel, “Mom, Dad, I have to talk to Moses!” 
They did their best to calm him down, “Jacob, stop! We are just another family among the masses of our people.  Moses barely knows who we are.   Why do you want to talk to him?”
Jacob insisted, “I want to help him, but even more, I want to know what’s going to happen to us on the other side of the Jordan!”
Rachel did her best to offer parental wisdom, “Jacob, Moses isn’t going with us, remember?  He doesn’t know what’s going to happen.   But I hear he is going to be speaking to us soon – like a farewell speech.  Maybe you can ask him what he is going to say.” 
Jacob’s father Benjamin had an idea.  “Jacob, we don’t know Moses too well, but we do know Joshua, who will be our leader once we cross the river.   Let me see what I can do!”
   Once he heard about Jacob’s inquisitiveness and concern, Joshua was impressed.  He arranged the meeting without without hesitation.  
   Benjamin, Rachel and Jacob made their way through to the very front of the Israelite encampment.  They found Moses sitting in his tent, still wearing the veil over his face that was the result of close encounters with God. 
    Moses extended his hand to Jacob, and asked him to sit on the floor of the tent.   He looked at Benjamin and Rachel and said, “Thank you for bringing your son to me.  You must be very proud.  Please let me meet with him alone.  You can wait outside the tent. I believe Joshua wanted to speak with you.”
    The two of them sat alone – a 120-year-old leader, and an 11-year-old boy with bright eyes and an insightful mind.
     “Moses, I hear you are going to speak to us soon.  What are you going to say?” 
     Moses was intrigued, “Well, you certainly know more than most children your age.  What do you think I should say?”  
     Jacob was surprised by the question.  “I really don’t know.   All I know about us as a people and you as a leader is what my mom and dad have told me.”  
     “So what have they told you?”  Moses asked.  
    Jacob thought a moment, and spoke to his leader honestly.  “They told me that we were slaves in Egypt, and it took us a long time to get here.  They said that you tried hard to lead us and keep us together.  You were patient.  You were fair. You were humble.  Sometimes you just about lost your patience because the people complained so much.  But my parents said that we are here, thanks to you.”
     Moses said, “Thank you, Jacob, but it wasn’t just because of me.   What have your parents told you about God?” 
    Jacob became animated in his reply: “They taught me that while there were all sorts of gods that were worshipped by the people around us, our ancestor Abraham realized that there was only one God.   They told me that his family, including my namesake, Abraham’s grandson, all depended on God for inspiration and protection. They said that after Joseph became a great leader in Egypt, all the people ended up there. Our lives were good, but then we became slaves.    My parents said that they heard that God appeared to you after in a bush that looked like it was on fire but it didn’t burn up at all.    They told me what their parents told them, about how amazing you were when you led us out of Egypt after all of those incredible things that happened that made Pharaoh decide finally let us go, including the parting of the water while the Egyptian soldiers were chasing us.  We walked across on dry ground, but the water came back on the Egyptians soldiers.  We were free.  They said that you kept telling them to trust in God all along this journey.”
   “What else did they tell you?”  Moses asked.
 “They said that a few Israelites kept saying that their lives in Egypt as slaves were better than in the desert as free people.  My grandparents and my parents never understood that.   Neither do I.  Why couldn’t the people accept being free?”  
   Moses explained, “Jacob, change is hard for some people.   Even slaves who are being oppressed get used to how they are treated and accept it as their reality.   Maybe they weren’t ready for freedom, but I kept telling them that they were better off being free in the wilderness, on their own, being fed with the gift of manna, than they were doing hard work for people who cared nothing about them as human beings.  I knew, though, deep down, that most of the people, and even the ones who complained, didn’t really want to go back to Egypt.  They were tired, frustrated.   I did the best I could to be patient.   But I also reminded them that now we set our own rules.  We have our own teachings and values to live by.  God made sure of that at Mt. Sinai, giving us a good start in building a community of faith and hope.”    
     Jacob asked, “So what do you think I should teach my children, when I have them, God-willing?”  
     Moses thought a moment and replied, “Jacob, I have been wondering what I should tell the people when I speak in a few hours.  And you just made me realize something I do need to say.   But to you, now, I would say that you should teach your children that that the one God is always with us as a source of strength, wisdom, spirit, and optimism.   You should remind them of the rules that govern what we do, the most important of which may be those Ten declarations which God made at Mount Sinai about keeping Shabbat, about not committing murder or theft, and about acting honestly in our relationships.  It is about loving each other as we love ourselves.  You need to teach your children about that every day, at all times of day.    Teach them to look at the world through God’s eyes, recognizing a spark of God in every person.   Teach them to be God’s hands, doing God’s work to be kind to each other, as well as to the stranger, the orphan, the widow and the poorest people who live among us.   Make sure that those teachings permeate your home, so that that your children will practice all these rules naturally, and teach them to their children as well.”  
Jacob took it all in.   He asked Moses one last question, “Moses, will you tell the people exactly what you just told me?  I think they need to hear it.  It will remind them that they are not powerless…that there is something they can do every day to keep us going as a people.”  
    Moses was impressed, “Jacob, you are right.  I will tell the Israelites some of what I told you, and a lot more.  Thank you, Jacob – you have made a 120-year-old man understand that this people, our people, has a future.”
   Moses asked for Jacob’s parents, and told them, “Benjamin, Rachel – Jacob is a student who had two wonderful teachers.  And those teachers made him into a teacher as well.  Thank you.” 

    As they walked away, Moses began to put the words together.  “You shall love the Eternal One, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might…”

No comments:

Post a Comment