This week’s commentary comes from Bruce Chudacoff. Bruce has just completed eight years as chairman and president of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting – Mazel Tov!
This week is Shabbat Beha’alotekha. It contains instructions on how to prepare the Levites for their tasks as the assistants to the priests. The second Passover takes place (the first was the night of the Tenth Plague) and the Lord provides for those who cannot participate on the right night by creating a second Passover a month later.
More instructions are given. First of all, trumpets are made to signal the Israelites. There are specific signals for when to assemble, when to break camp, when to leave and how to go.
Moses is finding that being the sole leader of over 600,000 people is just too much for him to handle. God instructs him to assemble seventy elders to share the burdens of leadership. Another incident occurs. Miriam and Aaron decide that they should be equal to Moses in the leadership of the Israelites.
There are a few great lessons in this Torah portion for all of us as Scouts. We can apply them to our camping experiences but they have meaning for us in everything we do.
Moses was appointed the leader of the people. Miriam and Aaron tried to take his authority away. We see that once someone is put in charge, a senior patrol leader, the person in charge of a camping trip, the person making arrangements for an event, that person needs to be respected and his or her leadership needs to be followed. You may prefer to do things your way but that is not the Scout way just as it was not the way of our ancestors.
Moses found out the hard way that leadership can be a great burden. The Lord showed him how to obtain help so his leadership could produce positive results. The appointment of seventy elders provided Moses with a way to share the burdens of day-to-day life while still maintaining his authority. In Scouting, we recognize the wisdom of appointing helpers. We have a senior patrol leader and patrol leaders; we have a cook and assistants; we have one person in charge of the camping trip, a quartermaster to make sure we have the right equipment, someone to buy the food, someone to work on the transportation and travel permits if we need them, someone to check health forms and so on. Scouting teaches the lesson that Moses had to learn for himself; don’t take on the whole job by yourself. These lessons are of greater importance as we enter adult society. No leader can succeed without surrounding himself or herself with competent helpers who help to carry out the leader’s vision.
The Torah portion teaches us something else of major importance – preparation and planning are central to success. At the beginning of the portion, the priests prepare the Levites for their service at the Tabernacle. They all know what their jobs are in advance and are purified so they can perform them properly. We all need to be told what our individual jobs for an activity will be ahead of time and then we have to practice them so we are ready to carry out our assigned tasks at the right time.
The Torah also teaches us the importance of clear communication. They didn’t have cell phones in Biblical times, so trumpets had to do the work of notifying the people when it was time to take certain steps. We learn the importance of communication from these instructions. Yes, we too can use trumpets or bugles at camp as long as we communicate and let everyone know what our signals mean. We can also use a cell phone or other communications devices to make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to our events.
There’s a lot to learn when we try to visualize the experiences of the Israelites in the wilderness and in early Israel. Just as Moses had to learn how to be a good leader by sharing the load, the people had to learn that a good leader needs to be trusted and followed. Planning, training and communication are keys to success in Scouting, just as they were in the wilderness.