By Rabbi Garry Wayland
Following the recent European elections and meteoric rise of Nigel Farage, the traditional parties have to contend seriously with the question of our relationship with Brussels. Yes, of course, the EU may have benefits, economically, socially, politically, but for many the thought of handing over control to a parliament and bureaucrats we don’t really know outweighs any of the benefits.
The fear of losing our national independence to a central authority can always be terrifying. A new problem? In B’haalotcha, it seems, the Jewish people also have to contend with their relationship with centralist control. Having accepted the Torah with dedication and love – the re-enactment we celebrate on Shavuot – the Parasha records how being too close was too much.
First, the Israelites’ extended encampment at Sinai was overwhelming to them, to the extent that Rashi says, “they fled like a child out of school”. The manna – the bread from heaven that could taste like whatever they wanted – grew tedious. Even Moses – the Man of God, constantly in His Presence – cracked under the strain of the complaints, seemingly losing touch with his people. From the heights of Sinai, the Jews move on to the day-to-day drudgery that marked their sojourn in the desert, and the trials begin with these events.
These challenges were centred around the people struggling to understand what it means to have God’s Word in their midst, offering direction – in both senses of the word – constantly. The answers, however, are at the start of the Parasha, where the opening words, referring to the lighting of the menorah in the sanctuary, translate literally as “when you cause the flames to rise up”.
The message is that it isn’t enough to kindle the wicks and let go – you have to ensure they become a self-sustaining flame, that they are alive and independent. The greatest pleasure parents should have is seeing their child achieving independence; teachers, to see their students learn by themselves.
A leader should see his disciples rise up and become leaders themselves, just as the flame of the menorah rises up under their own strength. We resent central control – be it from a teacher, a government or even God’s Word – when it ends up serving its own purpose.
The Torah is to enable us to achieve self-actualisation, through a Divine Mission connected to the Jewish people and land of Israel; if we understand it is part of our core being, rather than an external constraint, hopefully we will fulfil its mandate of becoming who we should really be.