(Numbers 8 – 12)
Sometimes it’s hard to be a leader. Even Moses finally cracks in this week’s parsha and asks for help. And who can blame him? People are always complaining: why has G-d brought us to the wilderness, this manna tastes horrible, Rabbi Schneider’s singing “Always Look On the Bright Side of Life” instead of giving a funeral oration for our beloved father, Sidney, olevasholem. There’s always something!
Rashi points out that our complaints distance us from the Divine. And it doesn’t matter how hard a leader tries to make things better: instead of the manna, the L-rd gave the Children of Israel quails, yet still they complained, which I can sort of understand because I had quail once and there really isn’t much eating in them. Similarly, Sidney’s family didn’t think “Always Look On the Bright Side” was appropriate, so I started singing “Walking Back to Happiness”. How was I to know he’d lost both his legs in the war and had been confined to a wheelchair for sixty years? (In retrospect, the coffin was an unusual length.) Maybe if he’d bothered to come to shul just once in the past fifteen years, I might have known it.
They didn’t like me saying that either. There’s just no pleasing some people.
Like myself, Moses had many qualities, but the Torah only mentions one explicitly. In this parsha we’re told “the man Moses was very humble, more than all the men that were on this earth” (this is, of course, over 3000 years before Lord Winston was born). Like Moses, I have absolutely loads of humility. Loads of it. Our synagogue caretaker used to be this sweet little old man with a withered arm. Once he was carrying several large bags of cement to help with the new extension. He’d just had a hernia and discharged himself from hospital because he was worried about losing his job. He dropped one of the bags right in front of me and, without hesitating, I picked up the bag myself, even though it was, pardon my French, bloody heavy and covered in dust, and put it back on top of the others in the crook of his one good arm. (You see, Sidney’s family, I’m not disable-ist.) He died soon after, but I’m sure that as he rose to take his place in heaven, he would have wanted to kiss my helpful face and shake me with his hand which would no longer be withered because by then he would just be a soul, so in fact he wouldn’t really have a hand at all, but you get what I mean. That’s how humble I am.
A leader must also be like a mother. And I don’t mean a mother like my wife’s lover the builder who’s a woman, with her right-on man-free Islington ways (and don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against breast-feeding in public. But a thirteen-year old? Who isn’t even your son?)
A leader should be a mother like in the olden days. Nowhere in the Torah does it say: “and they shalt take unto themselves four cubits of cedar wood and they shalt make therewith a Naughty Chair for the Sanctuary”. No, those that rose up against the L-rd were punished with plague and death and no doubt the odd short, sharp smack which never did them any harm. In the same way should those be punished that rise up against their Rabbi. Can it really be so wrong to preach a sermon denouncing the wrongdoers and idolators in the congregation? Can it really be so wrong to administer a short, sharp smack to them which would do them no harm? Alright, I might have gone a bit far in dramatically emphasising my own innocence by stripping naked. But the Menorah described in this week’s parsha is made from one solid piece of gold and so are the Jewish people. We must not fight amongst ourselves. I can see good qualities even in the Honorary secretary: it’s a brave man who puts his head where he had to put it to rugby tackle me once I’d stripped off. So please, honorary officers, see the good in me. Please.
This article first appeared in The Jewish Chronicle.