Adapted from our Rabbi’s message on Sivan 14 5780

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Do you “Feel” Called by God?  

Parashat Naso נָשֹׂא is the second reading in the book of Bamidbar (Numbers), and continues the census of the people of Israel, now with the Leviim (Levites). The Creator chose the thirteen tribes, the Leviim, Aharon and his sons to do specific jobs, each having their own role, all having the same value but with different functions, as we read at the end of chapter 449, “According to the order of the LORD they were appointed by the hand of Moses, each man to his duties, and to his responsibilities, they were also counted, as the LORD commanded Moses”. The Creator is showing us that we are counted for a reason and are given our own function. He chose two men, Betzalel and Aholiav each with a special talent, but they didn’t work alone. They needed the rest of the community to perform the tasks and they would supervise. Some are called to be leaders while others, workers. We tend to categorize people according to whether we esteem their roles as having more or less value. Some diminish their own value and think they are good for nothing while others are the opposite. 

As a counselor, I see people who constantly compare themselves with others; This idea about being “number one” is a very American one and is opposite to what the Torah teaches us. If we need to compare ourselves with anyone, let’s compare with ourselves; and watch how we are constantly growing and improving, and then work to become the best person that “we” can be. We are each born with a unique personality and distinctive qualities. Psalm 139:14 says, “I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works; and that my soul knows right well.”

Israel was called “The Chosen People” because they were chosen by the Creator for a particular purpose.  God never asked us if we wanted to be chosen, even though I know many people, including my Israeli friends, who say, “I never asked to be chosen”.  Why were the people of Israel chosen… for their looks or intelligence? What are the criteria for being chosen? When our prophet Samuel was sent to the house of Jesse to choose one of his sons to be the next king, he would have personally chosen the one with the best looks, the strongest, the tallest, but God chose David, a ruddy, shepherd boy. The Creator sees what is on the inside; He doesn’t judge by externals, as we read in I Samuel 16:7b … ‘for the LORD sees not as man sees: for man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.’  When we are in community, we may not realize that we have been chosen or perhaps we don’t understand why. It is not because of what we can do for Him but because of who we are and the fact that we are ready to serve Him.

The Creator ordered the Israelites to form three camps: the camp of the Sanctuary (makhaneh Shekhinah – מחנה השכינה), the camp of the Leviim (makhaneh Leviim – מחנה לויים) and the camp of Israel (makhaneh Israel – ישראל מחנה), each camp having its own regulations and functions. No one could simply switch from one camp to the other without having the proper qualifications to fulfill their particular function.

Although we each have a calling, the question arises “do we have free will to choose what we do or are our lives predetermined?”  Progressive liberals say that we do not have the capacity to think for ourselves, and so they will do our thinking for us; that we are simply a product of our environment and therefore we are not responsible for our choices. Young people today constantly blame their parents for their poor behavior. We need to teach and prepare our children to be responsible for their actions and not blame others for their failures. We are in a world in which people want to pass the buck for what they do wrong.

Free Will versus Self-Determinism is a subject of much discussion today where people think that they are free to do whatever they please and refuse to take responsibility for their actions. That is not free will, that is being libertine. Free will implies that we are each responsible for the greater good of the whole. There are some people who believe that they are stuck doing what they were predestined to do, but where does free will come in?  Free will is the greatest gift that we humans have been given. The Torah tells us that we are made in the likeness and image of our Creator. This refers to our spiritual nature, not our physical one while most religions have formed gods in the image of man, as projections of themselves. When we denigrate ourselves, we are saying that God is a failure. We have each been chosen for something special. To be part of Israel, you need to be chosen and when the Creator chooses us, it is for us to do a job, and we use our free will to do it. No one is forced to perform His calling. It needs to be done graciously, willingly, and lovingly. Religions teach that if we don’t follow God, He will punish and destroy us, using fear tactics instead of teaching dedication to the Creator. Proverbs tells us not to hold back from disciplining our children so that we do not destroy them.  We need to teach them to make things right after they do something wrong.  

Today the world is in a mess. The pandemic has magnified the ills of society. The Creator brought order to the people but when people rebel against His order, they create chaos as we are seeing in our world. Why are people against order, correct behavior and following the moral values given to us by the Creator? Part of the problem lies in the education of our children who are being taught that there is no right or wrong and even the teachers themselves have little or no moral values. Most of us remain quiet, afraid of the repercussions of speaking out. We are living in an environment of fear. Such a different environment than the one that the Creator established for us! He wants us to be strong and to live in a community with order, without fear, in a community where we find support. People don’t want community today, thus leaving them feeling isolated and alone. The Creator gave us Israel to show how a community should function…in unity where there is enough strength to oppose evil. The Creator wants unity, not uniformity.

In Naso, He gave a beautiful blessing for Aharon give to His people. יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה, וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ. “May the LORD bless and protect you” showing us that in community we will never be alone, and that God is with us. To bless you means that He will be with you and keep you from harm. יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וִיחֻנֶּךָּ. “The LORD make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you” shows that He favors us; to shine mean His presence is with us. We are not alone; we are protected by Him.  יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם.“The LORD lift up His countenance to you and give you, His Shalom”. (Num. 6:24-26).  These blessings are parallel ideas, each to showing us that we are not alone; that we have been chosen for something special. Do your job, don’t complain that you are not good enough, because the Creator doesn’t commit mistakes; you have been made for a purpose.  Many of you are already doing what you have been called to do but you may simply not see it. Instead of comparing yourself with someone else, be grateful for what the Creator has done in your life. 

You and I may not ‘feel’ as if we are a part of a greater calling nor can we understand why we have an indescribable attraction to it. Perhaps we are afraid of the responsibility that comes when we fully give ourselves over to that calling. Many of us think that we are not good enough for the task, thinking that we don’t have the right qualifications, or enough money, or the right looks, or enough talent, so we look for excuses to get out of it. We are our own worst enemies, self-destructive, even convincing ourselves that we are good for nothing. Then, suddenly the Creator begins to work in us, through situations that we least expect, and we start seeing that there is something we can do. 

My call to you is this: each of us has something to give, we have been made with a purpose. No one exists for nothing. Our greatest joy comes when we find our place in this world no matter how insignificant it may seem. When we do what is right, we fulfill our calling. Don’t compare yourself with anyone, only with yourself. Do you “feel” that you have been chosen? Remember, feelings can fool or confuse us. It has nothing to do with feelings; it has to do with reason and acknowledging that the Bore Olam created you to be part of His people. Are you running away from being chosen? If you are part of the order of the Creator, you are in a wonderful place, and He will help you do your job. That is what it means to be part of the commonwealth of Israel, in community. No one is forced to accept their role, at any age, all we need to say, Hineni – Here I am.

Shabbat Shalom