This week’s Torah portion, in Israel, is Beha’alotcha, Numbers 8:1 12:16. The haftarah is Zechariah 2:14 – 4:7 and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 13:1-20.
I found the timing of this week’s parasha quite interesting. As we began the new week on Motzei Shabbat/Sunday, we celebrated Shavuot, a time in which we remember not only the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai but also the giving of Ruach HaKodesh in the Temple courts as the disciples celebrated Shavuot after Yeshua’s ascension. The reason I find this so interesting is HaShem’s actions in Numbers 11.
The narrative begins as many do, with the people are grumbling and complaining, and Moshe reaching his breaking point. In fact, he is so frustrated that he cries out to HaShem,
I am not able to carry all these people by myself! The load is too heavy for me! If this is how You are treating me, kill me now! If I have found favor in Your eyes, kill me please—don’t let me see my own misery!” (Numbers 11:14-15)
How often have we felt similar frustration in our family, our work, or even our ministry? “God I can’t do it anymore, just kill me and bring me home to you.” Fortunately for Moshe, as well as for you and me, HaShem seldom answers our cries of frustration and despair in the manner we express them. Take Moshe for example, instead of HaShem addressing Moshe’s suicide request to be smote, He gave Moshe a way to deal with his situation. HaShem told Moshe to set aside seventy elders of Israel, men known to be leaders, and to bring them to the front of the Mishkan where HaShem would take some of the Ruach that was on Moshe, empowering him to fulfill his role, and place it upon these seventy elders, enabling them to assist Moshe so that he would not have to carry the burden alone. Moshe did as HaShem commanded him, and similar to what would happen in the Temple courts centuries later, the seventy elders received the Ruach and began prophesying (cf. 11:24-25).
However, there were some differences between the incident recorded in Numbers 11 and that of Acts 2:1-4. In Numbers 11, HaShem came down in the form of a cloud, spoke with Moshe and then took some of the Ruach that was on Moshe, distributing it among the seventy. This cloud-form may well be reminiscent of the cloud that led Israel during their time in the wilderness. However, at Shavuot the situation is different. While gathered in the Temple courts the Ruach came in a different form:
…a sound (from heaven) like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.And tongues like fire spreading out appeared to them and settled on each one of them. (Acts 2:2-3)
While the sound and sight are reminiscent of Mt Sinai, I believe the greater importance to note is that the Ruach was not metered out as a portion of another’s but poured out without measure. Also notice that in Numbers the elders are said to have never “prophesized” again, but in Acts there is no indication that the effect of the Ruach’s outpouring had an ending or ceasing point.
Rashi’s comment on the statement וְלֹ֥א יָסָֽפוּ, that they did not continue (prophesying; 11:25) is thought-provoking. He notes that the Targum renders “and they did not cease” to mean that their prophetic powers remained. This would make sense in that if these elders were to continue to assist Moshe, they would need the power to do so. In this same vein, it is important to note that contrary to modern understanding, prophesy is not simply a miraculous, visible expression (as the vocal utterances in Acts 2). Looking at some of the synonyms of the word prophesy, we come to understand that it carries the nuance of giving advice, of having insight in a particular situation, and of being able to speak the truth, even in difficult situations. Kefa (Peter) may have had this last nuance in mind when he encouraged those of his community to “Always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you,” (I Peter 3:15). The three nuances just mentioned are not exciting or miraculous expressions of prophesy, but they are expressions that are needed at different times in our lives. In Mishlei (Proverbs), we read,
A person finds joy in giving an apt reply– and how good is a timely word! (Proverbs 15:30, NIV)
We usually don’t want to hear correction or advice from others, but the reality is that there are times when we cannot hear from HaShem and need to hear the prophetic word through one the Ruach brings into our lives. In 1972, Bill Withers released a song entitled Lean on Me. The chorus of that song is
You just call on me brother, when you need a hand,
We all need somebody to lean on.
I just might have a problem that you’ll understand,
We all need somebody to lean on.
We are all in the same boat on this journey through life. There are those around us, just as those standing before the Mishkan or those standing in the Temple courts, that have the ability to speak into our lives words that can guide, words that can heal, words that can restore life situations. Not only that, but there are times when you or I are the ones that have words that others may need because “We all need somebody to lean on.”