If you read this week’s Torah Portion, you are familiar with the story of the rebellion against Moshe and Aharon, and you read about G-d’s demonstration in their defense and G-d’s outline of the expectations for the Levites and the priesthood.
What I want to talk about today is not just how the children of Israel responded to Moshe but how we respond to leaders in our own lives, spiritual and otherwise.
We all tend to have expectations of leaders. We believe they have authority to make things better for us, and so we, of course, expect them to do it. And sometimes our expectations don’t play out like we hoped.
I remember, before I was a midwife, when I was working as an assistant to a local midwife. We had one little mommy in labor who labored much more effectively when the senior midwife wasn’t in the room. When it was only me in there, she thought to herself, “Oh, this is just an assistant.” She was super nice to me, she was grateful for every little thing that I did, she bravely faced all the pains of her labor, and she progressed really well. But when the senior midwife came in the room, that all changed. The woman thought, “This is an experienced midwife – she ought to be able to do more!” So she cried out and begged for more help, and she completely rejected every suggestion the midwife made for her because it wasn’t what she wanted to hear. So she labored better with me than she did with the midwife. And it wasn’t because I had a better personality or skill – it was simply because she had unjust expectations for the one whom she perceived to be in authority.
Listen to the emotions in this week’s parshah. How dare you? What kind of leader are you? This is your fault! You are lording over us unfairly! These are the kinds of things that the children of Israel were saying about Moshe.
But Moshe said, “I have not taken one donkey from them nor have I hurt one of them.”
The children of Israel wanted milk and honey, they wanted meat, they wanted leeks and garlics, they wanted rest, they wanted to do their own thing. And Moshe wasn’t providing for them like they wanted. But was Moshe a terrible leader? Was he punishing people to serve his own ego? Was he plundering them to increase his own power and wealth? Was he making deals with other nations that benefited himself but put the rest of the Israelites in danger? Was he a bad leader?
Sometimes we have expectations that won’t be met.
In Matthew 20 is the story of the laborers. A landowner went out to hire laborers at the beginning of the day. He agreed with them for a fair price for the labor and so they worked for him. Throughout the day, the landowner kept bringing more laborers in. At the end of the day, he brought the men in to be paid, starting with the men who had worked the shortest amount of time. And, surprise, he paid them a full day’s wage. By the time, he got to those who had worked since morning, their expectations were high. If he paid so much for such a short time, how much might he pay those who had worked hard the whole day?!? But the landowner just paid them the day’s wage that they had agreed upon. They were so angry with him, but he said to them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Didn’t you agree with me for this amount? Take what is yours and go your way. I want to give to this last man the same as to you. Isn’t it lawful for me to do what I want with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?”
It can be so easy to fall into this trap of expectations with people. I’ve done it with my parents. I’ve done it with my husband. I’ve done it with coworkers and bosses. I’ve done it with leaders among the believers.
If mama really loved me, she would let me do what I wanted!
He’s not listening to me. He’s scrolling through his phone while I’m talking. I am his wife – he should be attentive!
My coworker (or my work boss) isn’t pulling his weight. I’m doing twice the work that he is. I don’t mind doing the work on the days that he’s not here, but when he’s here and he’s just standing around while I’m working, it makes me frustrated beyond belief and I just wish he would work as part of this team!
The music at the congregation is too loud (or too soft). The service is too long (or too short). Nobody calls me when they are planning activities (or everybody is always hounding me about every activity).
And, yet, is your mama making rules to hurt you or to help you grow up better?
Is your husband a bad man? Is he actually breaking one of G-d’s Laws?
In the light of eternity, is your coworker/boss actually harming you? Can you simply do your best, as unto the Lord, and trust that G-d sees you?
Are your congregation leaders violating the expectations that G-d listed for us? Or are they simply not meeting your personal expectations?
One of my friends told me that most marriage conflicts arise from unmet expectations. “I thought that you would ____, but you aren’t.” But this is an age-old issue. We can see it in this week’s parshah.
At the end of this week’s parshah, we see God’s actions to confirm the roles that He had assigned. And then, in chapter 18, we see a clear outline of expectations. Here are the duties and rewards that belong to the priests and to the Levites. There are other passages where expections are laid out: In I Samuel 8, we see Samuel describing what can be expected from a king. First Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians, and 1 Peter have outlines of what a husband should be like. The Bible is full of expectations for parents. And in 1 Timothy and Titus, we see expectations for leaders in congregations.
Why do we have expectations?
Sometimes it is just hope – an inner desire for life to be better.
Sometimes it is a defense mechanism – a way to determine if the situation warrants action. We don’t want to be cheated or hurt, so we have expectations and we get angry when they aren’t met.
Hope is good. We all fall short, and there is much grace extended to us by our heavenly Father. And we should have forgiveness toward one another (after all, we have been forgiven much ourselves). But we can still hope. We can still strive toward things that matter to us. That’s why we communicate – hey, husband, can you please put your phone down for a minute and listen to me? Hey, coworker, this is really heavy…can you help me lift it? Hey, congregation coordinator, can you let me know when you are planning your next get-together? Hey, mom, can I talk to you about why I want such-and-such?
Defense mechanisms can be good, too, if they line up with G-d’s definitions. Should you follow a congregation leader who is quick-tempered and greedy for gain? No, that’s not a good idea. Should you sit back and say “oh, that’s fine with me” when your husband is headed in a direction that is contrary to G-d’s Laws? No. There is a reason that G-d gave us a list of expectations. In the Parshah this week, you can see the things that G-d said “these fairly belong to the Levites” but you can also see the things that weren’t on that list. That’s one of the ways that we know Eli’s sons (at the beginning of the book of 1 Samuel) were wicked.
Just make sure your expectations line up with His.
The children of Israel were so angry with Moshe. But Moshe was humble. Moshe followed G-d. Moshe had not cheated people. Moshe had not used power for his own gain. Moshe was following G-d’s expectations, and G-d defended him.
So, align your expectations with G-d’s and let go of the ones you invented yourself — so that He is fighting for you, and you are not fighting against Him.