Those who stand and wait
TorahParshat Behaalotcha

Those who stand and wait

Numbers 8:1 – 12:16

When I was in college, I was an English literature major. I readily admit that I do not recall most of the literature I was taught back then. After all, many days/weeks/months/years/decades have passed since that time in my life.

But one line recently came back to me when I was perusing this week’s Torah portion of Behaalotcha. It was: “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

This line comes from a sonnet by John Milton, a 17th-century British poet. In his older age, Milton lost his sight. As you may imagine, this made him very anxious and frustrated. A religious man, he struggled to cope with this situation and — as many would — asked “Why me, G-d? How can it possibly fit into the Divine plan for me to become blind?”

The answer he arrived at was this: G-d has His plan, and we are not privy to it. Nevertheless, our role is to seek to further it, any way we can — sometimes with our actions and accomplishments, other times with our patience, courage and acceptance.

“They also serve” means that we can also serve G-d’s plan for the world that He created by heeding His message and by finding our unique role and function.

In the opening verse of the Torah portion of Behaalotcha, Aaron asked a similar question: Why wasn’t I, or the tribe of Levi, included in the ceremony for the inauguration of the Mishkan (sanctuary)? Aaron felt he had no role in this important celebration. G-d answered : “Do not feel neglected. Your role, and the role of your children and your ancestors, is an even greater one.”

Aaron’s question is one we have all asked. What does Hashem ask of me? What role can I play to further Hashem’s unfolding plan? We know that with faith, prayer and Torah study, we can discover opportunities to play a role in building a community of holiness, fairness and kindness. Like Aaron, we will, in time, see how we can serve G-d, even when we “only stand and wait.”

Shabbat shalom. PJC

Rabbi Eli Seidman is the former director of pastoral care at the Jewish Association on Aging. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Jewish Clergy Association.

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