Name of Parashah

As we elevated our scroll just now,  you will have noticed the five line gap indicating the end of one book and the start of a new one.

This week’s Parashah is the start of the book of B’Midbar, known as Numbers in English.  Books of the Torah are named after the first Parashah in each book. And the name of each Parashah is from a keyword at its beginning. This is unlike modern books where we the name is linked to content. Oliver Twist being the main character. Or To Kill a Mockingbird  - a direct quote from Atticus Finch who tells his daughter that “it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird” but is really a metaphor for Boo Radley who, despite everything the children’s myth tells them, is really a gentle person who would do no harm. The Torah’s book names do not provide a glimpse of content, but more a navigation point to help us find our way through. So Oliver Twist would have been called Public Buildings, or maybe a certain Town. Harper Lee may well have called her book My Brother Jem, or Elbow.

B’Midbar translates as “In the wilderness” and gives us the location of the events about to take place. This is in the very first sentence. It also tells us the timing. And as Tony told us at the AGM, we are now at the start of the second month of the second year after leaving Egypt. But B’Midbar covers nearly the whole of the wanderings in the desert, over 38 years.

Counting and delegation

The parasha may appear a little dry but I think there is a huge message here. It tells us that Adonai instructs Moses to count the whole community by their tribes. It then clarifies or even corrects that, by saying that it’s just the men, of 20 or over who can fight. Moses is to prepare an army. But rather than do the whole job himself, just as Moses was advised by his father-in-law Yitro, Adonai instructs Moses to get help – this time from the heads of the tribes, who will have known exactly who was to be counted.  No question by anyone of whether this was done accurately or honestly. There must have been a temptation to cheat a bit, so that each tribe could have protected some of its young men. But that doesn’t even enter into the thought process. Pure delegation and pure trust. God then makes it all even more clear by giving Moses the names of those who were was to help him and Aaron in this task.

Leadership

To me the message here is very clear. It’s about delegation and trust and about strong, decisive confident leadership. It’s also about responsibility. Everyone taking their role.

Last Sunday for some complex reasons, my family celebrated the Bar Mitzvah of my nephew at Menorah Shul in Manchester. It was unusual being a Sunday, but according to Rabbi Fabian Sborovsky, totally consistent with our tradition and practice.  What was a bit unusual was that in order to honour the tradition of calling our Bar Mitzvah to the Torah, we read the Parasha.  Tradition is that the Torah portion of each week is first read on Shabbat Afternoon, then on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. And then on Shabbat Morning as we do here. We decided to read the portion on Sunday as well. As Rabbi Sborovsky put it, you can’t get enough Torah. So we both kept and “Reformed” the tradition exactly as one would expect in an MRJ community.  But the power of delegation was also demonstrated. In order to make the service as accessible as possible it was to be led by family members rather than the Rabbi. Rabbi Sborovsky generously allowed, even encouraged me to lead the service with him guiding us on Menorah minhag. We called my nephew to the Torah and he willingly read the portion we are about to read this morning.

 Sinai’s challenge

I think that the lesson here for Sinai is that delegation is an essential part of leadership but so is taking responsibility.  Over the last week, we have heard a lot about our challenges. I hope that as we address the challenges we have of uniting and invigorating our community, finding our new rabbi, addressing our building challenges and yes, keeping warm, everyone will willingly volunteer to step up and do as much as we all can to help.

That no-one’s integrity will be challenged.

That we will do this as according to our progressive values, with respect, kindness and of course inclusively.  And that our leaders will happily delegate as much of the work, so that these challenges can be used in the way we all want to make this community a true beacon of Progressive Judaism here in the North of England.