Esther’s D’rash: Unjust Expectations

  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.

Shabbat Shalom!

Jackie’s D’rash: Fear of Freedom

Fear of Freedom?

The episode of the ten spies was one of the most tragic in the entire Torah. In this week’s Parsha, an entire generation was deprived of the chance to enter the Promised Land. The entry itself was delayed by forty years.

In Numbers 13:28, Moses told the spies to go and see the land and bring back a report about it: Are the people many or few, strong or weak? What is the land itself like? Are the cities open or fortified? Is the soil fertile? They were also tasked with bringing back some of its fruit. The spies returned with a positive report about the land itself: “It is indeed flowing with milk and honey, and this is its fruit” but this was  followed by one of the most famous ‘buts’ in Jewish history: “But – the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak [‘the giant’] there”.

Sensing that their words were demoralizing the people, Caleb, one of the spies, interrupted with a message of reassurance: “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” However, the other spies insisted: “We cannot attack those people; they are stronger than we are.… All the people we saw there are of great size.… We seemed like grasshoppers…”. The next day, the people, persuaded that the challenge was completely beyond them, expressed regret that they had ever embarked on the Exodus and said, “Let us appoint a leader and go back to Egypt”.

Maybe we should ask the obvious question. How could ten of the spies come back with a defeatist report? They had seen with their own eyes how God had sent a series of plagues that brought Egypt, the strongest and longest-lived of all the empires of the ancient world, to its knees. They had seen the Egyptian army with its cutting-edge military technology, the horse-drawn chariot, drown in the sea while the Israelites passed through it on dry land. Egypt was far stronger than the Canaanites, Perizzites, Jebusites, and other minor kingdoms that they would have to confront in conquering the land. Nor was this an ancient memory. It had happened not much more than a year before.

What is more interesting, they were entirely wrong about the people of the land. We discover this from the book of Joshua, in the passage read in the haftarah. When Joshua sent spies to Jericho, the woman who sheltered them, Rahab, described for them what her people felt when they heard that the Israelites were on their way:

I know that the Lord has given this land to you. A great fear of you has fallen on us…We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt.… When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. (Josh. 2:9–11)

The people of Jericho were not giants. They were as fearful of the Israelites as the Israelites were of them.

What is more, the spies were not only normal people plucked at random. The Torah states that they were “men who were heads of the People of Israel.” They were leaders. They were not fearful people.

The questions are straight-forward but let me throw you a curve. Have you ever stopped to think that the spies were not afraid of failure?  Could it be they were afraid of success?

Never had a people lived so close to God. If they entered the land, their lifestyle of camping around the Sanctuary, eating manna from heaven, living in continuous contact with the Shechinah would vanish. They would have to fight battles, maintain an army, create an economy, farm the land, worry about the weather and their crops, and all the other thousand distractions that come from living in the world. What would happen to their closeness to God? They would be preoccupied with mundane and material pursuits. Here they could spend their entire lives learning Torah, lit by the radiance of G-d. There they would be one more nation in a world of nations with the same kind of economic, social, and political problems that every other nation must deal with.

Were they afraid of success, and the subsequent change it would bring about? They wanted to spend their lives in the closest possible proximity to G-d. What they did not understand was that G-d seeks. One of the great differences between Judaism and other religions is that while others seek to lift people to heaven, Judaism seeks to bring heaven down to earth.

Much of Torah is about things not conventionally seen as religious at all: labor relations, agriculture, welfare provisions, loans and debts, land ownership, and so on. It is not difficult to have an intense religious experience in the desert, or in a retreat. Most religions have holy places and holy people who live far removed from the stresses and strains of everyday life.

But that is not the Jewish project, the Jewish mission. God wanted the Israelites to create a model society where human beings were not treated as slaves, where rulers were not worshipped as “gods”, where human dignity was respected, where law was impartially given to rich and poor alike, where no one was destitute, no one was abandoned to isolation, no one was above the law, and no realm of life was a morality-free zone. This requires a society, and if you are going to be a society, you need a land. It requires an economy, an army, fields and flocks, labor, and enterprise. All these, in Judaism, become ways of bringing the Shechinah into the shared spaces of our collective life.

The spies did not doubt that Israel could win its battles with the inhabitants of the land. Their concern was not physical but spiritual. Maybe they did not want to leave the wilderness. Maybe they did not want to become just another nation among the nations of the earth. Maybe they did not want to lose their unique relationship with God in the silence of the desert, far removed from civilization and its discontents.

As you know this is not the plain sense of the narrative, but we should not dismiss it on that account.  Could it be that this may have been what the ten spies were thinking? Could the spies possibly have feared freedom and its responsibilities?

Torah is about the responsibilities of freedom. Judaism is not a religion of hiding from the world. It is a religion of engagement with the world. God chose Israel to make His presence visible in the world. Therefore, Israel must live in the world.

Maimonides speaks of people who live as hermits in the desert to escape the corruptions of society. But these were the exceptions, not the rule. It is not the destiny of Israel to live outside time and space as the world’s recluses.

Maybe they didn’t want to contaminate Judaism by bringing it into contact with the real world. Maybe they sought the eternal dependency of God’s protection and the endless embrace of His all-encompassing love. There is something noble about this desire, but also something irresponsible. The spies disheartened the people and provoked the anger of God.

So what is the mission and Project of the Jewish People?

It is the Torah as the constitution of the Jewish nation under the sovereignty of God – it is about building a society in the land of Israel that so honors human dignity and freedom and that it will one day lead the world to say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people” (Deut. 4:6).

The Jewish task is not to fear the real world, but to enter and transform it, healing some of its wounds and bringing Divine light to places often shrouded in darkness.

Shabbat Shalom!


Lisa’s D’rash: Coloring Inside The Lines

One day I was listening to Surrounded by Michael W. Smith. “It may look like I’m surrounded, but I’m surrounded by You.” As I was thinking about that line, and Adonai Himself creating a boundary around me, I started thinking about other boundaries.

In Psalms 16:6 we read “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” ESV.

In this verse, I think of property lines; the boundary around the property. I imagine that there is a good area to build a house, a good area for growing food,  a good area to graze animals, and a good source of fresh water. So these are some examples of boundaries.

I believe that there is another type of boundary. One that G-d places around us and that we live our life within. That there is a limit to what our adversary can do to us. The story of Job gives us a glimpse of this. We see that there was a boundary that could not be crossed.  In our Torah portion, we read about Miriam and Aaron. They were jealous of Moses. He had different boundaries than they did in his relationship with Adonai and they didn’t like it. They wanted their boundaries to be the same as his. G-d had something to say about that. 

He has placed us within the boundaries that are appropriate for us; and complaining about it, or being jealous of someone else’s boundaries displeases Him. Psalms 139:5-6 CJB “You have hemmed me in both behind and in front and laid your hand on me. Such wonderful knowledge is beyond me, far too high for me to reach.”

Sam’s Drash: Nasso

Numbers 5:6-7

Adonai said to Moshe, “Tell the people of Isra’el, ‘When a man or woman commits any kind of sin against another person and thus breaks faith with Adonai, he incurs guilt. He must confess the sin which he has committed

 Confession is good for the soul, right?  So why isn’t it all the rage?  Why is it that we humans usually spend more time and energy on the things we do right then the things we do wrong?  Bruce’s sweet mom used to say, “the hardest 5 words for most of us to say are ‘I’m sorry, I was wrong.’” Maybe we should take a moment to ask why? 

Now, if you are really good at confessing your sin on a regular basis, to God and people, with little to no compunction, please feel free to skip down to the Shabbat Shalom.  You get a gold star.  I would ask that you start conducting classes to teach the rest of us humans so that our world may improve. Thanks in advance!

As for the rest of us, or maybe it’s just me ?, let’s talk about the stumbling blocks that we allow to keep us from confessing our sin.  First let’s talk about what is sin.  Now let’s keep it simple… sin is breaking the Law of Adonai – the Torah.  When I was first saved, I thought this was very simple.  Metaphorically speaking… don’t drink, don’t smoke, and don’t dance the hoochee coo.  Get rid of all the external sins, the noticeable sins.  Then God showed me all my hidden sins, the ones that take place in your mind – pride, non-righteous anger, self-pity, bitterness, resentment.  I think here is where we will find the stumbling blocks.

To put it plainly, our flesh hates confession, and so does the enemy.  Personally, I find that anytime those two are on the same side, I better beware.  It is all too easy talk yourself out of needing to confess.  Unless you are well practiced at tuning out the voices of pride, anger, self-pity, bitterness, resentment, they are all cheering your flesh on.  Telling you, “It’s not really your fault.  You didn’t really do anything wrong.  You didn’t mean to do it.  What you did wasn’t as bad as what other people do.  It’s their fault you did it.  They started it. Nothing good will come out of admitting it.”  Pride refuses to admit wrong.  Anger takes it out on others.  Self-pity justifies the behavior.  Bitterness and resentment argue against the good of confession.  They are a nasty gang of liars.

Sometimes those voices say even worse things.  Heaping shame on us.  Telling us that even if we do confess we won’t be forgiven… even nastier lies.

So, going back to the verse at the beginning, the thing that stuck out to me is that it says we MUST confess.  Not should or could… MUST, not optional.  Now, if we acknowledge that the Torah is holy, good, and just, and that its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace, and that God gave us the law to help us stay close to Him, then this commandment that we MUST confess our sin MUST be good for us.  We don’t like confession because it makes us vulnerable and most of us have learned in life that being vulnerable is a bad thing or at least an extremely uncomfortable thing.  But if our relationships with people are to be successful vulnerability is necessary.  To have a successful relationship with our Heavenly Father vulnerability is compulsory and a fact – He is all powerful, we are not, we ARE vulnerable – fact.  Unlike some of our relationships here on earth, He is completely trustworthy because He is completely loving.  There are numerous verses that attest to the fact that God will forgive us when we confess.  Here’s one from 1 John…

 1 John 1:9 Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)

If we acknowledge our sins, then, since he is trustworthy and just, he will forgive them and purify us from all wrongdoing.

I like that it says He will not only forgive us but also purify us from all wrongdoing – make us clean.

When I first started on the Messianic path, I asked someone why do we need to celebrate Yom Kippur if all our sins are already forgiven?  Some time later, I attended my first Yom Kippur service and the reason became very clear to me.  The prayers on Yom Kippur are prayers of confession, confessing every possible way we could transgress the Torah.  It was mind-blowing for me.  It occurs to me that we could probably use those prayers daily.

I’ll end with prayer…

Father God, Thank You that You are so merciful.  Please continue to draw us close to You and Your ways.  Please help us see the sin we need to confess, give us the courage to confess it.  Please make us deaf to the lies that would enable us not to admit our wrongdoing.  Thank you, Father, that you not only forgive us but also wash us clean and put our iniquity in a sea of forgetfulness.  In Yeshua’s Name… Amen.

Shabbat Shalom,

Sam Dotson