Thereupon I said to you, “I cannot bear the burden of you by myself. Adonai your God has multiplied you until you are today as numerous as the stars in the sky. — May Adonai , the God of your fathers, increase your numbers a thousandfold, and bless you as He promised you.— How can I bear unaided the trouble of you, and the burden, and the bickering! Pick from each of your tribes men who are wise, discerning, and experienced, and I will appoint them as your heads.” (Deuteronomy 1:9–13)
How is it that certain people in our lives take on the persona of “parent,” even though they are not connected to us by blood or even through an extended family? Truth be told, it is human nature to cling to someone we see as stronger and wiser, because we want to feel safe and protected, both emotionally and physically.
In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses is clearly viewed as a parent, leader, and disciplinarian—the one God chooses to direct and protect the Jewish people. It is easy to see how Moses acts out this role of overwhelmed parent in Deuteronomy 1:12, when he says, “How can I bear unaided the trouble of you, and the burden, and the bickering!” Moses complains about the enormous responsibility God has placed on him to lead a people that continue to grow in number and present more challenges. He sounds just like any frustrated parent overcome by the numerous responsibilities thrust upon him who finally throws his arms up into the air and asks, “What am I going to do with you? How can I do this on my own?”
Moses doesn’t want the enormous job of raising thousands of Jews alone and devises a plan, as any good leader must, so that he can keep peace within the family. Moses appoints wise men and captains to oversee the day-to-day problems. He even implements a very carefully constructed outline of how these captains should deal with various situations. Finally, Moses tells his advisors that if they cannot resolve a dispute, they should bring the disagreement to him.
If you look at most large family structures, the older children often take care of the younger children. They often serve as surrogate parents, having many of the same responsibilities as the parents themselves. They are empowered to implement rules and decisions. Moses sets up a similar structure when he chooses elders of the tribe to be surrogates over the Jewish people.
The role of parent continues for Moses as he teaches his people how to act and live independently. He commands them to fight, to be strong, and to gain security and stability. He charges them saying, “ Adonai your God has given you this country to possess. You must go as shocktroops, warriors all, at the head of your Israelite kinsmen” (Deuteronomy 3:18). Again, Moses follows God’s command, for he knows that his people will never survive the hardships of life without courage and fortitude.
Finally, just like parents who reminisce about their children’s childhood, Moses recalls the years the Israelites spent in the desert, including all their trials and tribulations. He does not want his people to forget their past for fear that they will grow arrogant and self-righteous. In the portion we will read next week, Va-et’chanan , Moses reminds them to observe God’s words, “. . . for that will be proof of your wisdom and discernment to other peoples . . .” (Deuteronomy 4:6). He warns them not to forget what they have seen with their eyes and witnessed with their hearts. Most important of all, he instructs them to tell their children and their children’s children where they have come from and what God expects of them.
God knew that the Israelites could flourish only with a strong leader to show them the way and a parent to nurture them along the way. Moses possessed these qualities and thus led our people on a journey to freedom and prosperity.
By the way . . .
- Have you taught your children the three Rs? No not Reading, Riting, Rithmetic, but Rules, Routines, and Responsibilities. . . . Twenty-one years of clinical experience and twenty-two years of parenthood have convinced me that most, if not all, childhood behavior problems result from deficiencies in one or more of these essential “Rs.” . . . Parental authority consists of nothing more than establishing and enforcing rules, routines, and responsibilities. (John K. Rosemond, Parent Power! [Kansas City: Andrews and McKeel, 1991], p. 19)
- But when Moses’ father-in-law saw how much he had to do for the people, he said, “What is this thing that you are doing to the people? Why do you act alone, while all the people stand about you from morning until evening?” Moses replied to his father-in-law, “It is because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, it comes before me, and I decide between a man and his neighbor, and I make known the laws and teachings of God.” (Exodus 18:14–16)
- What parenting skills are necessary in today’s society in order to raise healthy and independent children?
- In guiding the Israelites, does Moses show good parenting and leadership skills?
- Is it important to delegate responsibility to others, or should you as leader make all decisions?
- What is the difference between leading and controlling? When and where might either of these qualities become unhealthy for you and for those you are working with?
D'varim, Deuteronomy 1:1–3:22
The Torah: A Modern Commentary, pp. 1,312–1,333; Revised Edition, pp. 1,161–1,173;
The Torah: A Women's Commentary, pp. 1,037–1,062