Perspectives of Power

Torah Portion: Beha'alotcha (Numbers 8:1-12:15)
Gospel Reading: Philippians 2:6-11; Luke 9:46-50
Commentary by: Chris Mumford

Who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6-11) 
An argument started among them as to which of them might be the greatest. But Jesus, knowing what they were thinking in their heart, took a child and stood him by His side, and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in My name receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me; for the one who is least among all of you, this is the one who is great.” John answered and said, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name; and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow along with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you.” (Luke 9:46-50)

Let's talk about power.

Behalotcha contains a couple of stories pertinent to this week’s parasha Messiah. I specifically mention Joshua's concern over the prophesying men and Miriam and Aaron's handling of Moses and his Kushite wife. The text tells us that Moses was the humblest man on the earth which, in addition to being an interesting statement for Moses to write about himself, contrasts the way Joshua, Miriam, and Aaron are acting in the passage. Joshua is upset because he believes that such power only belongs to those who Moses, and thus God, authorizes. Further, Miriam and Aaron are upset because Moses married above his class, arrogantly displaying his eminence.

What the parsha is trying to tell us is that they are all wrong about Moses’ power. Unfortunately, Miriam and Aaron are severely wrong. After reading multiple perspectives as to why she was punished, I still find it odd that Miriam is the only one who was disciplined. However, we cannot let speculation over details destroy the theme of the story: the burden of power and its effect on the character of individuals in leadership. The point is simple. Miriam, Joshua, and Aaron view power as being elevated above others. This is a big deal for them because they occupy important places of leadership. On the other hand, Moses views power as service. He never requested his position; God gave it to him without solicitation. At the burning bush he disdains the idea of leading the people. Moses lies and says he's not qualified. Jethro has to rebuke him for believing that he must judge Israel day and night. Moses loves God's people, and instead of accepting God's deal to destroy Israel and start over through him, he pleads his own soul for Israel. Moses did all of this for a nation and even family members who would criticize and challenge him.

Yeshua's disciples also seem to misunderstand what power means. They think Yeshua is a conqueror here to overthrow the power of Caesar and liberate Israel. They think that because Yeshua is anointed by God the power of God belongs to them, and they have ambitions of greatness and sitting on thrones. However, Yeshua interprets power differently and implores us not to pursue elevating ourselves in our own deeds and the esteem of others. The Gospel beautifully uses irony to change our perspectives of power. It is not the Roman emperor who is the son of God but a poor Jew from Nazareth. It is not the wealthy and corrupt Sadducees with their white washed tombs and mansions who sanctify the man made temple of God but a man with no place to lay his head that sanctifies the temple of the Holy Spirit in each person. It is not even the pious Pharisees with their focus on the minutiae of the Torah but the spotless Lamb of God who understands the weightier provisions of Torah cannot be abandoned for the sake of somehow protecting Torah. Like the prophets before him, Yeshua champions the vulnerable and misfortunate and ridicules those with both the ability and unwillingness to relieve their distress. In true biblical fashion, the Gospel writers turn ideas of life and spirituality upside down, and at the cross Yeshua pleads with God to forgive his offenders because they do not know what they are doing. Yeshua did all of this for a people that criticized and challenged him, even unto torture and death.

Moses came to deliver a people oppressed, and Yeshua also came to liberate a beleaguered people. Our sages made these parallels deliberately when writing their stories. They recorded what they witnessed so that we would believe the teaching of our Master Yeshua; the Kingdom of Heaven has hands and feet and we are that body. The Spirit of Messiah lives in us. Whatever influence we’ve been given must be used for the purpose of those with less power than we possess.