Friday, June 29, 2012

Loyalty and Snakes

As the Israelites continue their journey through the wildness in this week's Torah portion, they grow increasingly reckless. At first, the portion opens with God ordering the priest, Eleazar, to perform a ritual involving a sacrificial cow. By completing the action, Eleazar supposedly cleanses the community, clearing them of many sins they already committed in the desert. Suddenly, Miriam's death disturbs the group like an unexpected sand storm. The people begin to rumble about how their affliction in the desert seems worse than their suffering in Egypt. Some Israelites even suggest turning against God and returning to bondage. The Israelites complain about their dire thirst, begging Moses for a solution. Their leader seeks help from God, who commands Moses to strike a rock with his rod.  With the same rod that split the Red Sea, Moses unleashes a gushing water source. Though the Israelites quiet for a bit after Moses reveals the water supply, their previous remarks strike God very deeply. God calls Moses and Aaron's attention, scolding them for allowing the Israelites to grow so reckless. As leaders, God asserts that Moses needed to stop the situation before it wreaked such havoc.  For failing to maintain the people's loyalty to God and general order, God revokes the leaders' right to enter the Promised Land. Though Moses and Aaron continue to lead the people toward Canaan, God never allows them to inhabit their final destination. Only their descendants establish settlements in the Holy Land. Still, the Israelites murmur thoughts of returning to Egypt and mutiny. God sends a group of serpents to teach the travelers a lesson. The snakes bite anyone who shows disloyalty to God, Moses, or the Israelite nation, but Moses constructs a figure that heals such bites.    At the conclusion of this week's Torah portion, God uses this method of association to remove this bitter sentiment among the Israelites.  

The week's Torah portion focuses on loyalty, a unanimously important trait throughout humanity. God punishes Aaron and Moses on an account of loyalty. With feelings of returning to Egypt rising, God expects Moses and Aaron to address the situation. Instead, Moses and Aaron lose trust in God, ultimately betraying their covenant. Just as with any relationship, God feels greatly disappointed after putting years of work into enriching these Levites’ lives. In this story, the allegiance of Aaron and Moses failed to belong to their leader, but similar cases occur among friends. Whether one is an authority, friend, or acquaintance, supporting each other matters. Loyalty encompasses respect in any case, for it requires the utmost courage to protect a friend in need. When the people cry against God, Moses and Aaron stand by the rebels. Similarly, the serpents bite whoever is disloyal to God. The sting of a snake bite feels analogous to betrayal by a peer. In this Torah portion, God deems loyalty an important trait. Like a parent or teacher, God implements a strategy to teachers these subjects how to behave. In the Ten Commandments, God demands that the Jews only worship Adonai, the one God.  The Torah continually emphasizes loyalty as one of the most valuable, personal qualities.   
            During every age and era, loyalty sustains the human condition. At its most primitive times, loyalty simply increased our chances of survival. Instead of fending for food on one’s own, we serve each other meals or used to hunt in packs. Humans depend on each other for basic needs, and for that reason, no one can ever live at an entirely independent state. The Torah emphasizes loyalty because humans necessitate it. Throughout our lives, we continually develop deeper and deeper support systems.  While the emotion of betrayal hurts more than anything on this Earth, the joy of friendship enriches us. It is important to discover and acknowledge the existence of advisors and friends. Physically, our skeletal and muscular systems protect us from pain, but emotionally, only a tender heart and listening ear coupled with time eases that grief. The difference between loyalty and empathy lies within consistency.  When the Beatles sung about receiving a little help from their friends, many instances of genuine friendship probably influenced Ringo Starr rather than just one moment. Without loyalty, the world turns into an incredibly lonely place. Friendship makes life more than work and rest on the Sabbath. Whether many of us want to or not, social interaction is a part of our society. We need a supportive smile to brighten our darkest hours.  

Demanding loyalty is a much easier task than actually exhibiting it. We need to express loyalty to absolutely everyone we deem valuable. For Moses and Aaron, they need to support the highest authority of God and minor acquaintances that joined them in the wilderness. With friends, the loyalty goes best with honesty and acceptance. By continually strengthening the friendship through these three qualities, I find one creates some of the strongest imaginable bonds. I often see an instance of disloyalty among my peers where an individual acts differently in a group as opposed to one on one action.  Through being a loyal friend, one needs to show integrity, supporting a friend whether zero or a million eyes watch a situation. With an authority, one needs to demonstrate poise and respect. Again, integrity plays an important part in being a loyal subject. It is against my nature to tell someone not to question authority, for even I question God’s law from time to time. With a teacher or executive leader, however, one should always follow their sensible orders. I emphasize the word sensible because sometimes our rulers lead us astray. Of course, the Torah also teaches us to respect those invaluable to us. In any case, we should respect those around us. Otherwise, the consequences could hurt much worse than a snake bite.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Fear Leads to Forty Years of Wandering

A number of people know that the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years before reaching the Promised Land, but less in this majority recognize the significance of their delayed travels. It actually took the Israelites a mere two years to escape Egypt and reach Israel. Just before entering the land flowing with milk and honey, God asks Moses to send a representative from each of Israel's twelve tribes to survey the land. The committee goes into the land of Canaan, astonished by the sight of it. They feast their eyes on the gorgeous landscape of Israel, particularly its beautiful valleys and vast desert. To prove the goodness of the land to the others, the scouts return with the fruits of the land. The Israelites bring seasonable grapes almost too large for them to carry, and the people rejoice that God promises them such a wondrous land for their descendants.  Unfortunately, the scouts find one fault in the Promised Land. While observing the beauty of Canaan, they notice that certain nations already inhabit the land. Ancient peoples, such as the Canaanites and Amorites, outnumber the Israelites. Hearing the news, the Israelites stop eating the delicious fruit, and the group enters a panicked frenzy. God stumbles upon the scene with disgust, for God promised them this land. The Israelites doubt God's covenant, and for that, they deserved punishment. For questioning God's power to bring the Israelites into the Promised Land, God commands Moses to lead the people toward the Red Sea. With the except of the scout who continued to believe in God's might, God allows no one of the first generation to escape Egypt to see Israel. Instead of entering Israel after two years of wandering, the Israelites travel for forty additional years.

Though God sentenced the Israelites to this fate, the eleven scouts who doubted God ultimately doomed themselves. After seeing a gorgeous landscape decorated with fruit, the scouts reported about their enemy. God offers so much to the Israelites by presenting them with the land of Canaan, and they thank God by fearing their settlement. Some suggest they return to Egypt, taking slavery over imagined death. Whether one believes in God or not, the passage offers a lesson in taking chances. The Israelites fear the Amorites and the Canaanites when they enter the land. During the portion, the other nations threaten the Israelites in no shape or form, yet they appear terrifying at first glance. Entering a new home is a frightening endeavor, but we need to push forward sometimes rather than retreating to what we know. The Israelites ask to return to Egypt, a familiar entity, even if that familiarity brings horrible bondage with it. The entire generation suffers as a result of the fear and doubt that exists among them. Worrying never solved a problem. Rather, it always dramatizes the issue, intensifying the emotion.   In any moment of stress of nervousness, it is easy to retreat toward our comfort level, but we miss the thrill of accomplishment and adventure by taking this action.

The worst kind of fear is one that prevents us from taking a chance. The leap of entering Israel promised much more reward than escaping to Pharaoh. Like a runner overloading their system to earn their personal best time, all people need to strive to excel. The majority of people put in the adequate effort to succeed in an endeavor. It takes a special individual to soar beyond expectations, taking a risk from time to time. The effort it takes to excel is analogous to the strength of confronting nervousness. Sure, some risks are not worth the leap. Trying to survive a jump from a faraway height is not a smart choice without proper training, but we need to take our own jumps that match our personalities. Tomorrow, I celebrate the conclusion of my freshman year with a trip to Six Flags. I only went on my first roller coaster last year, and this year, I hope to conquer the tallest, scariest roller coaster in the park: Bizarro. Taking chances revolves around making sensible yet risky choices. I know my limitations, but riding this coaster is something I can overcome. The Israelites knew Israel was a risk worth taking. If the fear is assailable, face it. Otherwise, we find ourselves wandering in a world of sand for forty or more years.