B’ha’alot’cha 5783 – Kol B’Ramah
Summer is here and I’m heading to camp! I’ll be up at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin for the next month as the mashgiach ruchani, spiritual guide, creating joy and music and prayer in one of my favorite places in the world. I’m also visiting Camp Ramah Darom, Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, and Synagogue Emanu-El in Charleston, SC this summer, so let me know if you’ll be there! We’ll be singing this tune, Kol B’Ramah, a whole bunch, as it’s an anthem for the Ramah camps about what it feels like to come home to the place where you can truly be yourself!
קוֹל בְּרָמָה נִשְׁמָע, סוֹף סוֹף הִגַּעְתִּי לְבֵיתִי. רַק פֹּה חָפְשִׁי לִהְיוֹת אַתָּה וַאֲנִי
A voice was heard at Ramah, “I’m finally home!” Only here are we truly free to be you and me…
Hot weather has arrived for the Israelites in this week’s parsha, b’ha’alot’cha, as well. It’s hot in the desert as they march on their journey and they are getting cranky. They complain to Moses about basically everything, especially the lack of meat. Moses is at his wit’s end and seemingly can no longer handle the pressure of the immense responsibility of leadership. God has a solution. God tells Moses to:
וַיֹּאמֶר ה׳ אֶל־מֹשֶׁה אֶסְפָה־לִּי שִׁבְעִים אִישׁ מִזִּקְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל… וְיָרַדְתִּי וְדִבַּרְתִּי עִמְּךָ שָׁם וְאָצַלְתִּי מִן־הָרוּחַ אֲשֶׁר עָלֶיךָ וְשַׂמְתִּי עֲלֵיהֶם״
“Gather for Me seventy of Israel’s elders…and I will draw upon the spirit that is on you and place some on them as well. (Bamidbar 11:16).”
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888, Germany) asks why these verses are placed here amidst this story of the complaining Israelites? Who cares about “the spirit” right now? They need meat! Rather, there is something deeper happening that God really understands here: Even though they are complaining about their lack of meat and about other material lacks, it is really their spiritual needs that they are most unfulfilled. Therefore, infuse in them some of the spirit that is on you, give them spiritual sustenance that they may be satisfied and may celebrate in the goodness of the Holy One, and then they won’t cry out anymore for lack of meat.
Sometimes a surface level complaint hides deeper struggles or needs underneath. If we aren’t able to correctly diagnose the problem, finding the right solution is impossible. God realizes that the People of Israel are frightened and lost and are choosing to complain about meat when really what they need is love and support.
This Shabbat, how can we make sure to not only open our eyes, but to truly see and understand the needs of our community and those whom we love?