By Rabbi Evan J. Krame
Special to WJW
This week’s Torah portion is Chukat, Numbers 19:1 – 22:1.
Singing is what transforms Shabbat into a spiritual delight. Even as the pandemic ebbs, many are not yet ready to sing with a group. Don’t give up on singing; it may be the starting point to transforming the world.
In Parshat Chukat, Miriam died. The well that followed her through the desert dried up. The wandering Hebrews needed water. They complained bitterly to Moses in despair. God instructed Moses to speak to the rock at Meribah to produce water. Rather, Moses, who was likely exasperated, tired and disheartened, hit the rock. This instance of faithlessness was the basis for God refusing Moses’ entry into the Promised Land.
With further wandering and water again lacking, God gave Moses an instruction to assemble the people at Be’er “so that I might give them water.” Be’er in Hebrew means well. There the people sang a song – “spring up O well.” Then the nobles loosened the earth and the chieftains dug out a well. Perhaps this time the people had faith in their leadership and God. Water sprang up from the earth.
The song of the people, as a demonstration of their faith, inspired the leadership to dig the well. The precursor to success was the encouragement of prayerful singing. Then, in a combined effort, the tribal heads provided the needed relief through collaborative efforts. While the water was already there, access came only when the leadership pulled together to complete the task. What a model for our time. With song and collaboration, an urgent task was quickly completed.
Torah reminds us that God, like water, is the source of life. With faith, we transform what might have appeared to be a mere gift into an inheritance from God. Holiness is recognizing that we can reside in the high places, elevating our lives with the realization that these are inheritances from God.
One way we bring down holiness is by lifting our voices. The transformation of ordinary to extraordinary continues with collaboration. The process reaches holiness with awareness that the source of our lives is Divine. Then we return to songs of praise, hallelujah!
The prayer songs we need today are songs of hope. We start the demand for justice with voices raised in song, (“We shall overcome”). We bring healing to those who are sick with soothing song (“misheberach”). We are called to protect our planet when we hear the song of the animals, the birds, the whales and even the cicadas.
After the singing comes cooperation, which is the way to quench thirst in the droughts of our time — COVID-19 and other diseases, the subjugation of and hatred toward minorities and the burning up of our planet. We need more cooperation to overcome the plagues of our day, to quench the burning issues of disease, racism, anti-Semitism, ecological disaster and more.
Most poignantly, we need faith. Despair anticipates destruction. Cooperation and hope make manifest progress. After all, the water the people needed was there all along, just waiting to be found! All that was required to find the water was a song, collaboration and faith.
Rabbi Evan J. Krame is rabbi of The Jewish Studio, president of Washington Board of Rabbis and a fellow at Rabbis Without Borders.