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Advice from Parashah B'haalot'cha: Don't Try to Do Too Much!

Advice from Parashah B'haalot'cha: Don't Try to Do Too Much!

By this week's Torah portion, Parashah B'haalot'cha, it is no surprise that the children of Israel are complaining. This time the desert cuisine of manna is not to their liking, and they demand that Moses give them meat.

Moses loses it! He is overwhelmed, and in his anguish he cries out to God, “Shall I carry these people in my bosom as a nursing father (how I love that image!) carries a suckling child?“ (Numbers 11:12)

But even though the Eternal One is also very angry with the people, God tells Moses to relax because he is taking too much on himself.

Then God instructs Moses to appoint seventy elders to assist him so that he will not suffer burnout in the desert. (Numbers 11:16)

Interestingly, before this incident we read a conversation in which Moses asks his father-in-law (Jethro, in Exodus now called Reuel, so we are obviously dealing with two different literary traditions) to remain with the people to act as their eyes in the desert. Reuel says no. He must go back to his own people in his own land (Numbers 10:29-32). In Exodus it was Jethro who gave Moses the same counsel that God gives him in this week’s portion. (Exodus 18:14-26)

Whatever the source, the advice is crucial.

The Talmud puts it succinctly: “If you try to do too much, you end up doing nothing.” (B. Sukkah 5b)

Often, as we grow in stature we allow our sense of self-importance to grow beyond legitimate bounds.

And yet God had to remind Moses, of whom the Torah teaches we shall never see his like for greatness again (Deuteronomy 34:10), that he should not take too much on himself!

If so, should we not heed the message ourselves?

Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs is a former president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism and rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, CT. He currently serves Bat Yam Temple of the Islands in Sanibel, FL. A prolific writer, he is the author of several books, the most recent of which is …And Often the First Jew. Rabbi Fuchs earned a D. Min in Biblical Interpretation from Vanderbilt Divinity School, which, in 2017, named him its “Distinguished Alumnus of the Year.”

Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs
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