Be like Moses: Pivot to help the Jewish people
TorahParshat Chukat

Be like Moses: Pivot to help the Jewish people

Numbers 19:1 – 22:1

On Tuesday, thousands worldwide marked the 30th yahrzeit of the Rebbe — Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, the most influential rabbi in modern history. Here in Pittsburgh, communities have been commemorating the Rebbe’s yahrzeit with gatherings to celebrate his life, reflecting on and rededicating ourselves to his teachings and ideals. On Sunday, a bus traveled from Pittsburgh to the Rebbe’s resting place in New York, the Ohel, where the delegation joined thousands of visitors who prayed there this week.

In this week’s Torah portion, Chukat, we read of the passing of two tzadikim (righteous individuals): Moses’ brother Aaron the high priest, and his sister Miriam, the prophetess.

The Midrash tells us that, in the desert, the Jews were blessed with three miraculous resources in the merit of these three righteous people: The manna, the bread that descended daily from heaven and tasted like whatever the eater was in the mood for, was in Moses’ merit; the clouds of glory, which shielded the Jews from enemies, killed dangerous snakes in their path, smoothed the mountainous terrain and cleaned their clothes, was in Aaron’s merit; and the traveling well, which provided water for all their needs, was in Miriam’s merit.

What is the connection between these resources and the tzadikim in whose merit they existed?

Moses’ early occupation was as a shepherd. The Midrash tells us that upon seeing Moses tend his flock in an individualized fashion, having the young sheep graze on the soft grass, and then the older ones on the tougher grass, G-d chose Moses to be the shepherd of his flock — the Jewish people.

For this reason, the manna was in his merit, for Moses’ job as the leader of the Jewish nation was taking care of every person and their varying needs. The Talmud tells us that G-d distributed the manna in different forms, depending on the consumer’s level of righteousness. Thus, the personalization of the manna fits with Moses’ post.

The Mishnah also tells us that Moses’ older brother, Aaron, was a lover of peace and pursuer of peace; a lover of the creatures who brought them close to Torah. Therefore, the Torah writes that after his passing, the entire Jewish people wept in mourning for 30 days. They all appreciated him, and his tremendous universal love evoked in them a thirst for mitzvah observance.

This is why the clouds of glory were in Aaron’s merit. This protective shield encompassed all Jews, regardless of their merit — even idol-bearers. Since Aaron loved all equally, he begot the unifying clouds of glory.

Miriam, the Talmud tells us, was also known as Puah. She dedicated herself to raising the next generation of Jews who were to leave Egypt and receive the Torah. Torah is likened to water.

Just as water descends from the greatest heights to the lowest valley, so does Torah come from its place of glory to this lowly physical world. Therefore the well of water was in her merit.

Back to this week’s Torah portion: When Aaron and Miriam passed away, the clouds of glory and well both disappeared — only to return in Moses’ merit.

In a talk the Rebbe gave in the early years of his leadership, he deduced that Moses pivoted. While his forte was shepherding the Jews, symbolized by the manna, he adopted a new function, thus bringing back the clouds and the well. This is the true symbol of a Jewish shepherd. He busies himself not only with his natural role. When necessary, he pivots for the Jewish people. While Moses’ role was to instruct the leaders under him in guiding the Jewish nation, he adopted the roles of his late brother and sister as well.

The Rebbe continued that each Jew has a spark of Moses within themself. Thus, this story in the Torah serves as a lesson for each and every Jew. While we all have “our thing” — what we like doing, what we’re good at — we must learn from Moses that when there is a danger to our fellow Jews, we must pivot and adapt, ensuring their safety.

The Rebbe elaborated further that although one may have no personal concern for the snakes and scorpions — as the Talmud states that an animal only harms one who lacks a G-dly image — if another Jew is in danger, they must be saved. This is a life-and-death situation, and when Aaron and Miriam were no longer taking care of this, Moses needed to step in to fill their roles, providing not only manna, but protective clouds and
water as well. Moses’ remarkable transformation teaches us that when someone else needs it, we must do what it takes to make it our thing.

As we mark the Rebbe’s 30th yahrzeit, we can reflect on his truism: Each and every one of us must pitch in to help the Jewish people. We all have someone, or two, or 10, in our circle of influence who needs us. We have to be there for them, even if it’s not our thing.

And as the Rebbe told a businessman: “To influence all the Jewish people is a big task, but nevertheless, every Jew has the power to do so, because he is going with the help and blessing of G-d Alm-ghty Himself.” PJC

Rabbi Yossi Feller is the rabbi of the Chabad Jewish Center of Cranberry. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabonim of Western Pennsylvania.

read more: