D'Var Torah Terumah, Sh’mot (Exodus) 25-27,
2 Adar 5768, 8 February 2008 Mark Burger
Passages in Torah that get into heavy detail tend to be overlooked in the more liberal circles of Judaism. Besides the focus on minutae, there is a sense of the details conveying a sense of exclusivity. It has to be done this exact way by an elect person or persons, or it’s not acceptable or even dangerous. Details of rituals such as the High Priest intoning the word of God in the Inner Sanctuary on the Day of Atonement reinforce this belief.
One can believe that, or one can look at it another way. The details are meant as a template that can be done by anyone willing to undergo the effort, and spelled out in detail that does not require a special authority or intermediary to interpret it. The Ark is meant as a gift, “Terumah” to God, and a place where Our Creator may dwell. It is transitory and to be borne in a journey, such as life is meant to be.
But the ability to replicate is a singular benefit of this passage, as is the ability to replicate scripture and the ability to replicate temples and other places as sanctuaries. Each of you has the opportunity to take part in this replication, both daily and on special occasions. On March 14-16, the Oak Park Temple Retreat in Wisconsin will feature a “Build the Ark” exercise, as well as other wonderful opportunities to pray, study and socialize. Find out more at the Temple office. You can get a glimpse of the same wonderful feeling of building the Ark that was experienced by our ancestors thousands of years ago. You can help provide a sanctuary for God to dwell in, as well as a sanctuary for your own heart and soul. Amen.
D’Var Torah – Vayigash Genesis/Bereshit
Mark Burger – 2 January 2004 - 8 Tevet 5764
One year ago, I gave a dvar on this same portion on our Egyptian slave-like dependency on cheap energy to maintain our affluent lifestyle. I am unhappy to report that, in spite of some improvements, that slavish dependency has not changed as we look to our present-day Josephs to mortgage our children’s future and increasingly our own future in view of the coming lean years. The peril comes in three forms – first, we continue to rely more and more on countries that harbor terrorism or instability for our daily energy needs. Second, we fail to take full advantage of the on-going revolution in cleaner energy products and services, costing us jobs, businesses and a worsening balance of trade. Third, environmental degradation of our world and our children’s world still threatens to poison us in the name of affluence.
The numbers continue to be alarming – the U.S. will soon be importing over 60 percent of its petroleum from outside its borders and shores, most of that coming from violent, corrupt or unstable regimes like Saudi Arabia, the former Soviet Union, Nigeria and Venezuela. In spite of all the financial incentives and advanced exploration and extraction technology, the world is consuming about one billion barrels of oil more than it is finding every month, which is what the U.S. consumes about every fifty days. So draining Alaska of its 10 billion barrels of oil would last us about 1-1/2 years. U.S. oil production peaked in 1972, world oil production will peak sometime between 2006 and 2012.
Next year, we may also be importing for the first time over ten percent of our natural gas consumption, with the biggest increases coming in hazardous liquefied form from Saudi Arabia and Algeria. Reliance on these resources is inherently unstable for countries that extract them, like the OPEC countries, or that use them, like the United States.
Another issue is that other countries with growing middle classes, like China and India, want the affluence we have, quickly soaking up existing resources and making out of date comfortable predictions of resource longevity. Canada will soon begin large-scale exports of coal to China, with U.S. coal extractors soon following suit. So the supply of centuries of coal usage within our borders may change to merely decades.
While it is best to have a concerted national effort to free ourselves from dependency, pollution and economic non-competitiveness, there is much we can do as individuals, communities and states. Indeed, that has been most of recent American progress in becoming greener and cleaner - action from the grass roots. So here is the call to action focusing on three significant fronts to make an immediate impact.
(1) Reduce petroleum consumption. Your next vehicle purchase should be a hybrid model. There exist right now cars that can take five passengers very nicely. Starting later this year, you can get a choice of sports utility vehicles, and next year pickup trucks or mini-vans. You will save up to half of your present fuel consumption. Every five hundred vehicles that switch from a guzzler to a hybrid will eliminate one gas pump. Every one hundred thousand vehicles that switch will avoid the need for one super tanker from an OPEC member. Your buying a hybrid vehicle sends a clear message to the world’s automakers of the need to phase out the internal combustion engine. If you don’t want to personally own a hybrid car, you can look to share in one.
(2) Reduce natural gas, coal and nuclear power consumption. Reduce the energy consumption of your house or building now, using insulation, better windows and replacing appliances with ones that are Energy Star rated and, after that, installing solar heating or electric systems, if appropriate. It is affordable if financed by mortgages or other long-term instruments, plus you will have a more comfortable place and one that will increase in value. If you can’t, or don’t want to install solar, buy green power or their emission credits, also called “green tags” from solar or wind sources, which you can do now through the internet.
(3) Use clean energy technologies. There is a new way to economically support Israel, and that is to use the clean energy technologies that they develop. Clean energy systems can go on temples and schools as well as private buildings. Buying handicrafts from Israel is nice, but this goes one better.
There is of course communications with our elected and appointed officials on getting more funds, improving our codes and standards and so on. But there exists an infrastructure that we can use to deliver us from supporting pollution, terrorism and economic instability. I have more information on this call to action in the rotunda. We can deal with the coming lean years by being green. Amen.
Center for Neighborhood Technology - www.cnt.org
Chicago Center for Green Technology – www.cityofchicago.org/Environment//GreenTech/
Clean Car Campaign – www.cleancarcampaign.org
Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life – www.coejl.org
ENERGY STAR? - www.energystar.gov
Greener Cars - www.GreenerCars.com
I Gosm – The Smarter Way to Drive – www.i-go-cars.org
Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation – www.illinoiscleanenergy.org
Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Bureau of Energy and
Illinois Solar Energy Association – www.illinoissolar.org
Mainstay Energy (Green Power) – www.mainstayenergy.com
Methane Madness - www.eeba.org/conference/2003/presentations/Udall_Randy.pdf
Rocky Mountain Institute – www.rmi.org
Solar Energy In Israel - www.us-israel.org/jsource/Environment/Solar.html
Solel Solar Systems Ltd (Israel) – www.solel.com
U.S. Green Building Council, Chicago Chapter – www.usgbc.org/chapters/chicago/
When Will The Joy Ride End? - www.oilcrisis.com/debate/udall/joyride.htm hubbert.mines.edu/news/Udall-Andrews_99-1.pdf
Zero Energy Buildings – www.eere.energy.gov/buildings/zeroenergy
Mark Burger DVar Torah Balak, Bemidbar/Numbers 22:2 - 25:9
(Chant 25:1-9) 12 Tammuz 5760, July 14, 2000
The Torah portion of Pinchas is controversial in modern life. To a conservative, or fundamentalist, viewpoint, the slaying by Pinchas of the two sexual partners is a clear signal that loose morals are not to be tolerated. Theres a further, nastier undertone that because the two illicit lovers are of different tribes, read, different races, any kind of relations between different types of people is punishable by death. In the ugly world of racists a band called the Sons of Phineas, the anglicized version of Pinchas, takes upon itself to violently punish couples of different ethnic backgrounds, as well as gays and anyone else that they hate, which is everybody. The Pinchas episode ranks up there by those I call reactionaries with the casting of one of Noahs sons as the beginning of a so-called inferior race, forbidding dancing due to the Golden Calf and the allowance of having your bratty kids lit up when they dis you. Well, as the father of teenagers, maybe that ones not so bad
Flipping over to the liberal side, horror is expressed at Pinchas double killing, graphically portrayed. Its barbaric, at the very least an example of ancient mores run amok, and not allowable in todays progressive society. Taking it further, to many on the so-called left, it makes Torah and the organized religion it represents a repository of bigotry, repressed sexual envy, and lust for violence as a means of control. How can any progressive, inclusive and diverse civilization accept this behavior as a basis for worship
Not so fast, not so fast. Things aint what they seem. Sorry, right wing racists. Pinchas skewering was not an Aryan act. The name Pinchas derives from Egyptian language, meaning the Negro or the Nubian. It is doubtful Pinchas acted from anything approaching a racial notion. But this doesnt let the live and let love crowd off either. The coupling of Zimri and Cozbi, and the orgies in Shittim were not merely lust, they were political acts.
The enticement by the Moabities was a coup detat, the use of sex as a means of worship a graven image, with the result of Israel disappearing as a people. This was not just a roll in the hay, but statecraft. In Judaism, a Jew is supposed to avoid three things even at the threat of death: murder, idolatry and sexual immorality. The combining of the last two compounded what went on at Shittim. On top of that, after disease ravaged Israel and plunged them into mourning, two people of very important families, engage in sex in front of everybody. Pinchas may not have been the only person who wanted to kill them, but he was the fastest. Interestingly, commentary states that had Pinchas not acted in hot pursuit he would have been guilty of murder.
In Jewish oral law, one of the worse things is entrapment. That is why people suspected of wrongdoing are not allowed to swear an oath, because it could ensnare the swearer and court in a form of idolatry, taking Gods name in vain. It is one thing, when alleged sin takes place behind closed doors that, in the end, requires reflection on what was done. Its quite another when the object is power and destruction of a people. In the end, I suppose you had to be there. Amen.
D'Var Torah Ki Tisa
20 Adar 5760 25 February 2000
Mark Burger Sh'mot Exodus 30:11 - 34:35 Chant 33:12-23
One of the signs of our changing world is selecting different providers of telephone, electricity and natural gas services, which used to be regulated monopolies. These changes have resulted in price savings, confusion and a lot of dinner interrupting phone calls.
Companies selling us new service use the telephone, television, direct and electronic mail. With a lot of these transactions, we're asked to give a verbal yes to switching, often to a computerized recorder.
What happens a lot is that people revoke their decisions, claiming they changed their mind, they misunderstood or were possibly misled. Sometimes these disputes require a legal solution. Often the solution proposed is to have the customer agree to a switch in writing. This is called in the industry a "wet" signature, implying ink that dries. A "dry" signature is the oral agreement that's taped or done by e-mail.
The premise is that a "wet" signature signifies more thorough understanding. The industry doesn't like it because using paper copies drives up costs. It is also not clear whether a "wet" signature in itself results in a clearer understanding of what customers are getting. But many marketers also believe that getting a "wet" signature results in better buy-in by the customer, leading to a longer lasting, and more profitable, relationship.
Ki Tisa is about the ultimate relationship, God and Israel. The first giving of the covenant apparently did not work. It was apparently a "dry" signature. The subsequent breakdown required a closer interaction in the relationship. The closer interaction was Moses himself inscribing the new relationship - a form of a "wet" signature. It also occurred after blood was shed after the Molten Calf - a more pronounced "wet" signature.
But the covenant between God and Israel has been cast since. Was the "wet" signature better than the "dry" one? Do we understand better? Maybe not. But the relationship has been long lasting.
D'Var Torah - Mark Burger, Noach, Bereshit 6:9-11:32, 6 Heshvan 5760, October 15, 1999
The more I read the story of Noah, the world and God, the more I've been troubled. Noah seems so colorless and void, John Voight's recent portrayal of him notwithstanding. Even Torah has an ambivalent view of him. Noah was considered an "eesh tzadik", a righteous man, but could have been a "nefesh tzadik", a righteous, or spiritual soul. He was "tameem", blameless without fault, the word "tameem" can also mean meek, nebbish, like the way Jacob was compared to Esau. Noah walked with God, but not the Lord. Noah was an ultra nice guy.
This was not a good time for God. His creation was going sour before him. This was not a case of two people, Adam and Eve, disobeying him. Nor of one guy killing another, as Cain did to Abel, and at least regretting it somewhat later. No, the whole place was going down.
So Noah was told to prepare for the ultimate corporate downsizing. He was given a budget and a small staff to salvage what assets the Boss considered saving. The Lord Himself handed out the pink slips. No corrective action. No golden parachutes. No outsourcing, spinoffs or vote by the Board of Directors or shareholders - well, wait, there was a vote by the only Board Member and Share Holder.
Boom, or whoosh, that was it. And Noah did as he was told. No protest. No comments. No anguish. Noah did "k'chal", just, as he was told. Now, wiping out all human and other terrestrial life is an astounding thing. It can make one speechless. Maybe that's what happened to Noah. Maybe he is the first case of post-traumatic stress disorder, getting drunk as soon as life on earth became "normal".
One sees floods about to happen every day. Businesses, governments, entire societies go along on their grooved rails. They sometimes are lawless or corrupt, described in Torah as "chamas", but more likely they are "yashav", or settled, soft or complacent as the people who tried and failed to build a tower at Babel to God.. And maybe that was Noah's gift. Maybe God was speaking to everyone, but only Noah paid attention. Noah at least prepared for change, did something different, risked ridicule and got out of a rut. That at least is something we can take with us in these times of mergers, technology driven changes and uncertainty, avoiding complacency in the face of an impending flood. Amen.
D'Var Torah Balak 12 Tammuz 5759 25 June 1999 Mark Burger
In the play "Becket", King Henry asks Becket when is one immoral and when is one amoral. Becket smiles and replies "It depends what you mean". In the dictionary, "amoral" means not admitting to moral judgements or values, not caring about right or wrong. "Immoral" means contrary to established moral principles.
Which is worse? Depends what you mean. Immoral means something obvious - evil, bad, violent. It fits in well with good and evil, if one talks about being immoral. Duality is very comforting; you're either one or the other. Christianity can be considered dualist; God or Satan, Heaven or Hell. Judaism can travel the dualist path as well.
But there's something else about Judaism that considers something worse than heaven or hell. And that is nothing. Oblivion. What may be considered a desirable state in some Eastern religions is intolerable in Judaism. To have nothing, to not exist is the worse thing that can happen, literally the disappearance of the soul. No wonder one of the greatest Jewish fears is not having someone to say kaddish after you're gone. No wonder one of the harshest curses or oaths is to have someone's name vanish.
Amorality may be considered a form of oblivion while still being physically alive. And a form of amorality that threatens all of us is passivity. Going with the flow, just doing your job, not making waves. Almost everyone does it to some extent because the alternative can often be unpleasant, painful, even dangerous. So what's so bad about it? Two things. Eventually it is a horrible way to live. Secondly, it can make God mad.
Balaam was a man who, depending on your view, was a prophet or a sorcerer. He was ordered by Balak, king of Moab, to curse the Israelites. Okay. But then God told Balaam not to curse them. Okay. Balaam goes back and forth between God and Balak with some real comedy. There was the talking ass seeing the guardian angel where Balaam didn't. There's Balak acting so enraged he might explode like the fairy tale troll at the bridge, and so on. It ends up with Balaam stating to Balak face-to-face why he blessed, not cursed Israel. And Balaam rides off into the sunset.
Now on the surface, Balaam looks good. He says wonderful things about Israel, including a verse found in our liturgy "How lovely are thy tents". So why am I picking on him, and why do a lot of Jewish commentators pick on him as well? When I agree with many of the ancient ones, I get nervous. I have problems with Balaam because he reminds me of the corporate suits that say the right thing to everybody, whether he believes it or not. He reminds me of a Tanakhic George Stephanopoulous, with just the right level of involvement between two big, conflicting clients.
At one point, God gives Balaam a choice to go or not go to Balak and his clique. Balaam went, angering God. Apparently Balaam didn't himself see that what he was participating in was wrong. Later, after the taking ass and angel incident, Balaam asked the angel what he should do, after abusing his more discerning donkey. Balaam said to Balak that he could only say what God told him to say. Numerous times afterward, Balaam did not go one inch outside of what God told him, but did not tell Balak to hang it up, letting the incident just peter out.
Jewish commentators scorned Balaam as later turning to sorcery, inducing Israel to idolatry and dying ingloriously later on. I have problems with Balaam because he seemed to have no moral center, doing what ever he was told to do by a strong enough voice, or purse. As unspeakable as evil is, it does serve a purpose if only to really show us what it is to be wrong. Pharaoh gave clear lessons in being wrong. Korah gave clear lessons in being wrong in his rebellion against Moses and God, although Korah's lineage did survive
Ambivalence leading to amorality can happen to the best of us; that's why it's so dangerous. It can be the gateway to evil, as the force of nature hates a vacuum. Noah can be considered to be ambivalent or amoral when he didn't confront God over the Flood. Perhaps that's why Noah drank himself into oblivion. Job can be considered to be ambivalent or amoral when he did not confront his children over their decadent ways. Amorality is just as dangerous as evil, maybe even more so, because it can appear so nice. Sometimes it doesn't pay to be nice. Amen.
Shabbat Chol Hamoed 17 Nisan 5759 2 April 1999
Mark Burger (Shmot Exodus 34:1-9 Chant)
Pesach is about liberation and freedom, the first known rebellion for the sake of worship; the first time a weak people was known to have triumphed over a mighty nation – not to conquer it, but to free itself of it. Pesach is also about a second chance. A second chance to overcome fear, idolatry and denial. The Jewish people will always have a second chance, as long as the Covenant with God is in effect, perhaps whether we believe in that promise or not.
Second chances, however, are not guarantees or guaranteed to individuals, communities, even tribes of Israel. And because they are not like a 401k in a bull market, we get angry, and, if the anger is not addressed, doubts about who we are and our relationships with God begin to sprout.
Second chances came to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, even Pharaoh. Second chances did not come to the golden calf worshippers. Or to the first born of Egypt, or most of an earlier first born of Israel. This seems cruel, even though God warned earlier in Exodus that His miracles to free Israel were to affect Egypt down to the slave girl grinding her millstone.
Many of us get second chances in our daily lives. Many of us take advantage of them in a meaningful way. Going for a new job or career when the present one is comfortable; recovering from a serious illness or injury to undertake a great project or cause; or carrying on someone else’s work when that person is no longer able. Many of us fail to take a second chance because it’s risky, inconvenient or possibly unpopular. When a person or people fail to take advantage of second chances, they begin to die before their time.
We see Israel imperiled by disaster, whether by Pharaoh or the Amalekites in the Bible, or Rome, Spain or Germany in more modern times. I will not say these represent second chances in themselves, but what second chances come from them? What might be the second chance for Israel through the fear, the pain, the witness to evil? Is God stepping back for us? Is God stepping back in order for us to exercise our free will, which is the only way to love God according to the Covenant? Is God’s stepping back a second chance? After all, how well did we work when God hovered over us?
This stepping back is evident in this portion. Moses, taking the second chance to receive the Covenant for Israel, writes it himself. The first time, before the golden calf, it’s written by God. Did Pharaoh have a second chance? It appears he did not because God stiffened his heart. But the Hebrew word is "cha-zayk", which could also mean strengthen, as in "Be strong and of good courage". Maybe Pharaoh had a second chance, but was predisposed to fulfill God’s role.
Second chances are opportunities to grow. Noah did not plead for a world about to be destroyed, although he had the chance. When he had a second chance, he got drunk, possibly to erase the agony of the lost second chance out of his mind. Abraham pleaded with God for Sodom and Gomorrah, unsuccessfully, but he took the opportunity with the second chance.
Moses was the greatest second chance taker of all, successfully arguing for Israel, in spite of their sins, and even when God offered the ultimate second chance, to start Israel over by his seed. May we take advantage of second chances if and when they come with the same fortitude of Moses, if not with the same spectacular results. Amen.
D’Var Torah Mark Burger
February 13, 1998, 18 Shevat 5758
Yitro - Exodus - Sh'mot 18:1 -20:29 (Chant 18:12 - 18:27)
When I was a teenager in Whitestone, Queens, I was in a good deal of driit and turmoil as was typical in the 1960's. I was somewhat radical, felt that Judaism was irrelevant, and was open to change, for better or worse. Through friends in the United Farm Workers movement, I was hanging out at a nearby Episcopal church. Not for services, but for socializing. There was folk singing at night with candles aglow in the basement social room.
Father Donald E Page was the curate, or assistant priest, at the parish. Father Page was a young, with-it guitar player. We talked a lot about life, had dinner at his house and with my family at my house, and I followed him as he made calls on his parishioners.
One night, while guitar chords and the song "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" wafted through the church basement, I asked Father Page if I could join his church. He looked at me, put his guitar down and said, "Why do you want to do that?" I said "I like it here. I like hanging out with you and the people here and stuff."
Father Page said "So you like it here and think I'm wonderful. But what about becoming a Christian? Are you ready to acknowledge Jesus Christ as your Savior?" I said "What?" Father Page said "What about your religion? Do you know what Judaism is about?"
I mumbled something which I don't remember. He looked at me, smiled in that Cheshire Cat way of his and said, "I'm not about to let you become a Christian just because you think I'm a great guy, although I am that." He finished by telling me to think about my faith and heritage, and then come back to talk with him.
I didn't give much thought to either religion for a while, continuing my profound ambivalence. But eventually, I thought about what Father Page said. My teshuvah, or turning, began then. It wasn't, and isn't, 180 degrees, but maybe a point or two every so often. The revelations I had were more material, getting my heart set on a career and getting out of New York. The turning back to Adonai and Torah was not earth shaking. No burning bushes, no angels to wrestle. More like "Where ya been? Sit down. Want a cappuccino?"
Moses was fortunate to have had a righteous, God-fearing Jethro to offer counsel. Jethro gave Moses counsel that helped turn Israel from a motley crew into a people. And I am fortunate to have had a righteous, God- fearing Father Page, who gave me counsel and helped me on my way to my own land. Amen.
D'Var Torah Mark Burger, January 26, 1996, 15 Shevat 5756
B'Shalach - Exodus - Sh'mot 13:17 -17:16
Modern, liberal Jews have a tendency to be squeamish when Torah refers to warfare, bloodshed and violence. So-called fundamentalists, Jewish or otherwise, are reputed to take comfort in passages which call for the violent end of something, or someone, found objectionable. Justice, mercy, tolerance and related values which abound in Torah tend to be glossed over by those who are filled with righteousness, if not ecstasy, over divinely ordered violence.
On the other hand, nice, liberal, modern, educated Jews tend to shrug off Torah as a bloodthirsty anachronism. Much, if not all of the text and commentary, is not worthy of study and further commentary in these supposedly rational and enlightened times. One could say that both the spiritually Neanderthal Jew and the spiritually pencil-necked Jew weaken Judaism. One weakens Judaism by making it and Torah to be a license to kill and maim; the other saps the essence of Judaism in the name of supposed irrelevancy.
There can be a better way, one that, in the words of Torah, goes "not to the left nor the right". It starts off with serious study,then taking the questions and issues posed wherever it goes. You don't need to come up with a conclusion. In fact it may spoil the fun. You just apply what happened millennia ago and apply them to what is going on today.
Take the portion that was just read. Israel engaged in its first military operation as a liberated people. They fought and defeated the Amalekites. Israel was victorious when Moses held the rod up, was losing when the rod was not held up, and finally, with help from others, the rod was held up for the duration of the battle, and Israel was in the end triumphant.
This is a tribute to trust in Adonai, but may also be shown as a commitment to fight evil in ways other than direct combat. Taking this concept another step, it can also be a commitment to fight other forms of evil. The list is long; injustice, bigotry, pollution, poverty, homelessness, hunger.
The can of food that you held up earlier is shaped like a cylinder, essentially the same shape as Moses' rod. The cylinder-shaped rod that triumphed over Pharoah's magicians, that brought water to a thirsty Israel, that helped to beat the Amalekites. Think of that moment of tension when Moses held up the rod, wavered from fatigue and was helped by others to hold it up again.
Think of that can of food that you held up for the few minutes during my chant. Think of how it will help someone who is one of thousands of Chicagoans and millions of Americans who literally wonder where their next meal will come from for them and their families.
Moses invested a lot of himself physically and spiritually in holding up the rod in his battle with evil. I trust that you invested something more than the donation of a "rod" of food in this battle against a more local form of evil. The fight against evil, through one of its principal weapons, tzedakah, also means giving something more of yourself than the writing of a check, or the drop of a can into a box. Sometimes that investment comes in direct contact with the scene of evil, as the Israelites were fighting hand-to-hand with the Amalekites, or when food is delivered directly to the hungry. Sometimes it comes from a distance, like Moses on a hilltop, with hands and rod raised, or when you have held that rod of food, and maybe thought about it feeding someone, and maybe adding a prayer while you thought about it.
The Amalekites' evil was beaten off for another day. The rods that you held up will go to the Food Pantry to fight hunger for another day. Adonai promised that the day will come when Amalek, and evil, will be blotted out forever. May that day not be far off, but until that day comes, keep your rod raised. Amen.
D'Var Torah Chukat - Bemidbar (Numbers) 20:19-29:9
Tammuz 5755 July 7, 1995 by Mark Burger
The government agency where I am employed is undergoing major changes. A large, lumbering bureaucracy, it may wind up disappearing. This will result in thousands of jobs eliminated, replicating the fate of other public and private sector organizations. There is a lot of cynicism, denial, fatalism and other examples of how or non-existent morale. What bothers me most, however, is the almost complete lack of leadership. in fact, there is little for what would pass as management or administration.
I have read how a crumbling workplace can affect health, relations, even life itself. It has caused me to slip away from things, including a falloff in practicing Judaism. In preparing for this service, I read this week's Torah portion for inspiration. Between the Red Heifer and warfare, I came upon chapter 20 of Numbers. The chapter starts off with Miriam's death, Israel whining for water, Moses striking the rock for water, losing control of the situation with Aaron and the ability to enter the Promised Land, being prevented from crossing Edom and ending with Aaron's death.
Not very inspiring. Nevertheless, the chapter drew me. Here was a collapse of leadership, with Adonai having to come in to clean house. I felt relevance here with my situation. I envisioned myself one of the Israelites, seeing my leaders dying figuratively and literally. What would have gone through my mind and heart to see Moses and Aaron on their faces in despair before a mob, yelling at them, and groveling before an enemy? There were no management consultants, professional facilitators or jargon-encrusted memoranda braying about empowerment, re-engineering or customer satisfaction. Our hands were not held and patted by $200 per hour consultants saying everything will be fine, while the hammer comes down.
No, there was none of that in this Torah portion. My worm's eye view as an Israelite traveling with the tribes would have experienced chaos, unsettlement and anxiety. But there was leadership. If it wasn't leadership from Miriam or Aaron, there was leadership from Moses. And if leadership was slipping from Moses, you could see leaders being developed in people like Eleazar. And if there wasn't leadership from any of those folks, there was leadership from Adonai.
I have read many books and seen and heard many tapes on management, organization and the like. My own favorite is Tom Peters, primarily because he's something of a tactical anarchist. He's not very systematic. Peters keeps tossing out stories and examples like cherry bombs. He speaks more in midrashic terms than anybody else. One of his sayings "Crazy times call for crazy organizations" is very appropriate for a ragtag collection of tribes moving about a wilderness. Underscoring Peters' examples is that there is no substitute for leadership. All the consultants, organization charts and empowerment workshops won't atone for that deficit. Israel survived, and is surviving, thousands of years of seeming chaos because of that leadership. The leadership that is in each one of use to provide and to accept. Amen.