The Change Challenge
By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim
Reading through these Torah portions can really get one down on the Jewish people. They seem to be constantly rebelling, complaining and ungrateful. However, it is interesting to note that according to the Ramban all these disturbing events took place within the first year and a half of the exodus from Egypt. The only exception was when the people became agitated and ungratefully complained about the heavenly Manna food after Aharon’s death in the last year of their forty-year sojourn in the desert. This changes our perspective. For thirty-eight years they were perfectly righteous with no ungrateful complaining and no rebellion whatsoever. Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin inquires as to why it is that these rumblings specifically occurred at the beginning and end of their stay in the desert?
Rabbi Sorotzkin suggests that the answer is ‘change.’ When the Jewish people left Egypt, it was naturally a tremendous upheaval for them. They were unsettled and without absolute peace of mind. They subsequently became accustomed to their new surroundings and circumstances and were settled for the next thirty-eight years. As the time was approaching for their move into the land of Israel and change was imminent they became unsettled and lost their peace of mind. The psychological state of the Jewish people at the bookends of their travels explains why they specifically were more prone to sin during those time periods. When one loses one’s peace of mind, one is unable to think clearly, use proper judgment and make wise decisions. One becomes irrational, and negative character traits such as anger, hatred, jealousy and desire tend to emerge.
Some change and upheaval in life is inevitable, nothing in our world remains constant forever. Change naturally has the tendency to disturb our peace of mind. The takeaway message is that we should be acutely aware of our state of mind. At times when we are unsettled and do not have complete peace of mind, we need to be aware of the dangers of that state of mind. Decisions should be avoided and no action should be taken until we are confident that our actions or speech are underpinned with a clear and peaceful state of mind. I therefore suggest that it is a Mitzvah to cultivate a state of inner calm and peacefulness to ensure we act with wisdom and pure intention. We are then able to serve God appropriately. Our mindfulness class on Shabbat afternoon is part of this holy endeavor to create a calm inner state of mind.