Parashat B’ha’alot’cha

By Cantor Jaclyn Chernett

The troubled Moses cries to God in his loneliness.
How can he continue to cope with the constant
complaining and irresponsible behaviour of his people!
He is worn down by his burden, but at no time does
he seek to relinquish leadership. For Moses, the
leader, the prophet, the only alternative would be

The calling of the prophet is indeed a lonely one.
Prophecy has been described in many ways during
the long years of our literary tradition. The prophecy
of Moses is a paradigm of the most intense
relationship with God ‘ nobody else ever experienced
it this way: With him I speak mouth to mouth,
plainly and not in riddles, and he beholds the likeness
of the Lord.
(Num. 12:8)

Miriam and Aaron, in the same text-breath, are, too,
accredited with the prophetic relationship with God
but not in the same way. The Talmud paints a
picture for us of Moses’ perfect Godsight/Godlight
through clear glass (or is it a mirror?) compared with
the unclear glass that is the vehicle for the vision
afforded to the other Prophets (Yevamot
49B). To Miriam, Aaron and all other prophets,
prophecy comes to them through visions or

Prophecy has also been described as analogous with
madness or being out of bodily or mental control or
sometimes as a state of ecstasy. A.J. Heschel
described madness in terms of prophetic being
as ‘man’s desperate attempt to reach transcendence,
to rise beyond himself’ and transcend despair.
(The Prophets, 1955, JPS p. 392).

Zechariah was a prophet who, in this vein, had acute
visionary power. In the haftarah to our
sedra (also read on Shabbat Chanukah), his wild visions, including angels and even the satan, the false accuser, rallied the people out of their fear and despondency to have the courage to finish the rebuilding of the Temple.

Prophecy, whatever we take it to mean, is available
to anyone. Moses, in his humility but also in his
frustration with his people and his task, responds to
Joshua’s demand to shut up Eldad and Medad for
prophesying: Would that all the Lords people were
prophets, that the Lord put His spirit upon them!

(Num. 11:29)

That all people should be imbued with a sense of God
is very much our own aim, surely. The prophet Joel
envisions a time when: I will pour out my spirit
upon all flesh/ And your sons and your daughters
shall prophesy/ Your old ones shall dream dreams/
Your youth shall see visions.
(Joel 3:1)

There are leaders even in today’s world who have
been referred to as prophets. And leadership has
corrupted and destroyed, as the visionary has (mis)
used his/her powers even in the name of God. We
know it can be a highly dangerous thing.

The potentialities of leadership are very frightening.
Nelson Mandela quoted (with errors) Marianne
Williamson, in his inaugural presidential speech:

Our deepest fear is not that we are
inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful
beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness
that most frightens us. We ask ourselves ‘Who are
we to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’
Actually, who are you not to be? You are a
child of God. Your playing small does not serve the
world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so
that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were
born to make manifest the glory of God that is within
us. It is not just in some of us: it is in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously
give other people permission to do the same. As we
are liberated from our own fear, our presence
automatically liberates others. (A Return to Love:
Reflections on the Principles of A Course in
, Harper Collins, 1992 (corrected

Those of us who have graduated from the holy walls
of AJR have been invested with the title of Rabbi or
Hazzan and Teacher in Israel, with sanction for
leadership of the Jewish people. Religious leadership
is a lonely journey and, by definition, places an even
more onerous burden on those who teach us. My
prayer, as I emerge somewhat overwhelmed among
the eleven just ordained, is that our revered teachers
and all of us who they have instructed, including
those yet to be ordained, are granted strength and
vision. I doubt if many of us would be called
prophets ‘ but as visionary leaders we take on a
more awesome and solitary responsibility than we can
imagine. We need to support each other in our
sacred work.