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COVID-19 Food Distribution in Ramla

Imagine living in a community where poverty is rampant, and you fear for your safety—surrounded by crime, drug dealers, and homicides. For those living in Ramla, a city of Jewish and Arab residents, with its roots going back to the 7th century, this is a daily reality.

Sadly, the population is very poor, and unemployment is high. Because of Ramla’s cheap housing, it has become a first stop in Israel for immigrants, who are unfamiliar with the area or where to find help. There are also many aging Holocaust survivors and World War II veterans—living a lonely, fragile existence. Their fixed incomes often force them to live week to week.

Suddenly, adding to this city’s turmoil, the COVID-19 health crisis intensified the needs and suffering. With widespread layoffs and strict lockdowns, how could these people survive?

Thankfully, friends like you were there for them through CBN Israel’s outreaches—with a major citywide distribution of food, medicine, and other basic necessities. We provided aid to hundreds of needy families, including many who lost their jobs with businesses closed. We also delivered groceries and medicine to Holocaust survivors and other seniors, quarantined as high-risk citizens, who had no one to bring them essentials at the peak of the pandemic.

During this global health crisis and beyond, your support is urgently needed in the Holy Land. Your generous gift can provide for vulnerable people year-round throughout Israel, with groceries, housing, blankets, and other basics. Your compassionate support can be a blessing to so many—thank you for giving to CBN Israel today!

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I’m a Chassidic Jew, and I Will Not Apologize

By Rabbi Levi Welton

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, it’s time for all minorities to stand up and demand equal treatment, civil rights, and cultural liberty. This includes Native Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, Muslim Americans, and even Chassidic Americans. Actually, especially Chassidic Americans.

Chassidic Americans in New York (and Orthodox Jews in general) are under attack, with more than half of New York City hate crimes in recent years targeting Jews. These attacks are not sui generis (or “unique”) in nature. With our distinctive black-and-white attire and visible religious head coverings, the Orthodox make an easy target for physical violence and societal prejudice. As Rabbi Mordechai Lightstone, social media editor at Chabad.org, puts it, Chassidim—and Ultra-Orthodox Jews in general—“are described as all things except for the one thing we are the most: human beings trying to make it in this town like everyone else.”

But we’re not treated like everyone else. On the contrary, we’re marginalized, vilified, caricatured, and scapegoated. We’re blamed for the outbreak of plagues, like COVID-19 or the measles. We’re objectified and used, non-consensually, for salacious entertainment in a prejudiced plethora of fictitious films like “Unorthodox” and “Holy Rollers.” We’re castigated as illiterate, barbaric outsiders and forced by the media to wear the label of “Ultra-Orthodox,” effectively dehumanizing us as obstinate extremists. We’re even targeted by our very own public officials, like Mayor de Blasio and the New York State Education Department.

All this fans the flames of the “us vs. them” mentality that endangers minority groups like mine. In this regard, implicit bias is a pandemic that swiftly spreads through the bloodstreams of our communities and institutions, unchecked and devastatingly destructive.

I believe these flames of insidious bigotry must be quenched with the soothing waters of public education. Furthermore, that educational training must begin with an evisceration of the social pressure to culturally assimilate. The viral and vile judgmentalism against my brethren obscures the healthy multiculturalism our proud republic was founded upon.

My ancestors, who immigrated to this country pre-Revolution and died fighting to abolish slavery during the Civil War, believed that all their fellow Americans were endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights and liberties. They believed it so much that they fought for it and paid the ultimate price. I believe that it is only due to the sacrifices of the giants of our past, upon whose mighty shoulders we now stand, that the evolution of our democracy can continue to march forward.

And that begins with one salient step: Stop making me feel that I have to apologize for being a Chassidic Jew. I won’t apologize for being who I am. And I won’t tolerate being maligned as ethnographically “insulated” or otherwise “Othered” from the diverse tapestry of American society. My “Ultra-Orthodox” brethren patriotically (and accurately) refer to our nation as a Medina Shel Chessed—a “Country of Kindness”—and for one simple reason: Here we are armed with the freedom to be who we are and to believe what we believe.

For centuries, my ancestors lived under regimes where adherents of the Jewish religion were told what jobs they were allowed to have, which Shtetl they were allowed to live in, and when they were allowed to fight back against the rampant riots of anti-Semitism. And those were the good days.

Today, more than half of the global Jewish population has ended up in the United States because the First Amendment protects our right to freely observe the First Commandment. And it is gratitude for our nation’s values that inspired Irving Berlin, an American Jew, to pen those words during World War I that are now chanted by everyone from sports heroes to politicians: “God bless America.”

I’m an unapologetic Chassidic-American because I believe it is specifically my Chassidic heritage that makes me more American. After all, who is living the American dream of freedom and liberty more: the overtly visible Jew who wears his minority status like a badge of honor or the assimilated Jew who desperately tries to fit in with the Anglo-Saxon, Brady Bunch subliminal expectations of the 1950s? And no, I’m not bashing “white America.” What I’m saying is that America is great because this is the land where liberty rings free in a thousand sounds of individuality.

Black Americans. White Americans. Muslim Americans. Chassidic Americans. America is neither a homogenous “melting pot” nor a heterogenous “salad bowl” of peoples, but rather a cholent (traditional Jewish Sabbath stew) that incorporates distinct cultures fused together by our common pride and fealty to our nation.

This is why it is our responsibility to fight that “Black Lives Matter,” “Native American Lives Matter,” “Jewish Lives Matter,” “Muslim Lives Matter,” “Evangelical Lives Matter,” “Latter-day Saints Lives Matter,” “Hispanic/Latino Lives Matter,” “Asian Lives Matter,” and more. Our individual cultural and historic narratives of prejudice and discrimination each have their own unique, tragic trajectory.

Now is the time for American citizens to rise up against that often-unspoken pressure to fit in to someone else’s monochromatic version of America.

Now is the time for us to be a shining beacon of hope to the world and show that we can have different states of mind and even different states of reference but still be truly united.

As the great first-century sage Hillel taught in the Talmud, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? And if not now, when?”

Rabbi Levi Welton is a pulpit Rabbi, U.S. Air Force Chaplain, and writer who lives in New York City with his beloved wife and son.

Website: rabbiwelton.com

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Weekly Devotional: What Kind of Disciple Are You?

“Teach me Your way, O LORD; I will walk in Your truth; unite my heart to fear Your name” (Psalm 86:11 NKJV).

Are you a lifelong learner? Do you desire daily to learn from the Lord? Walking with the Lord, walking in His truth, means that we seek to learn from Him, to be taught by Him.

The word for disciple in both Greek and Hebrew means “a student.” Being a disciple, then, requires us to daily seek to learn from God, knowing His way, and walking in His truth.

When Jesus commanded His disciples to go and raise up disciples, He expected that their efforts would produce a community of students eager to learn God’s way and walk in His truth. But in order for His disciples to create such a community, they first had to be that kind of disciple.

The actions of Ezra, the scribe, describe biblical discipleship: “For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10 NASB)—to study, to do, and to teach others. This provides the process of biblical discipleship: Study leads to action, and both provide the foundation from which instruction to others can occur.

The second clause of the Psalm—“unite my heart to fear Your name”—indicates that one of a divided heart cannot truly fear (or revere) God’s name. In other words, a person cannot be truly devoted to God with a divided heart.

What is the connection between requesting to learn God’s way and receiving an undivided heart? Learning from God is not simply learning an algebraic equation or the history of the United States. Being taught by God requires a diligent obedience, which is what the Bible means by walking in His truth. One cannot obey God with a divided heart. To learn from Him, we must passionately pursue Him with singularity. We must seek to study His word, then do it, and then we must instruct others in what we have learned.

This is what Jesus envisioned when He commanded His disciples to raise up disciples. As students, they would raise up other students—all to live out His word and message.

PRAYER

Father, teach us Your way so that we may walk in Your truth. Give us an undivided heart, so that we may fear and revere Your name. Amen.

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Torah Reading Commentary: No Perfect People

By Mark Gerson

Everyone in the Torah is flawed. In fact, it is often the best people in the Torah who have the greatest flaws. While the Torah says and shows that a good relationship can help repair a personality defect, no Torah character is without his or her flaws.

Personality flaws often weave through the whole of who we are and color most of our words and actions. That is why, given that our most frequent activity is engaging in relationships, even the best relationships in the Torah have flaws.

As we see in Numbers 12, even the best sibling relationship in the Torah—between Miriam, Aaron, and their younger brother Moses—has significant flaws that yield dramatic consequences.

One of Moses’ great flaws is his failure to be a good husband and father. Moses is married to a remarkably courageous and competent woman, Zipporah. They have two children together. Yet he seems to have conducted the Exodus, the greatest and most logistically difficult event in the history of the Jewish people, without them nearby.

Immediately following the Exodus, Moses’ family comes to greet him in the desert. Although Moses “prostrates himself” and “kisses” them, he only asks about the “well-being” of Jethro, his father-in-law. Subsequently, we never see Moses saying anything loving, tender, or supportive of his wife or children. Perhaps consequently, his children (unlike those of his brother Aaron) are never mentioned in Scripture for doing or saying anything distinctive.

Moses may have been the greatest man in the Torah—and, as we Jews believe, in the history of mankind—but he is still a man. And it is not good, as God tells us in early Genesis, for man to be alone. While the term is not used, Moses seems to have divorced Zipporah and married (according to Numbers 12:1) a “Cushite woman.” The Cushites are a people from modern-day Ethiopia/Sudan.

We know only one thing about Moses’ Cushite wife, and it is explained by the discipline called gematria. Every Hebrew letter corresponds with a number, and words that have the same number are considered by the Jewish tradition to be intimately related. The gematria for “Cushite” is 736—as is the gematria for “beautiful of appearance.” This is the term that often describes physical beauty in the Torah—as with Sarah, Rachel, Joseph, and the first set of cows in the Pharaoh’s dream.

Moses, therefore, seems to have left Zipporah (who would have been advanced in years, as this is nearly four decades after the Exodus) for a presumably younger and certainly beautiful woman. Miriam and Aaron are deeply disappointed in their younger brother, and they “spoke against Moses regarding the Cushite woman he had married.”

Yet God is furious with Miriam and Aaron, not Moses. Numbers 12:9 says, “The wrath of the Lord flared up against them.” Miriam is afflicted with a devastating skin disease.

The existence and extent of God’s anger at this moment is, at first glance, puzzling. Certainly, God does not approve of Moses leaving Zipporah for a new and beautiful woman! It would go against everything God had previously taught us about marriage, beginning in Genesis. And God never mentions the Cushite woman or incorporates her in the partnership and plans that He has with her husband.

Does God approve of Aaron and Miriam rebuking their brother? Given the centrality of rebuke in the Jewish moral system—God commands us in Leviticus 19:17 to “Rebuke, rebuke your fellow”—it certainly seems as though their criticism is warranted and perhaps even required.

Then why is God’s fury turned toward Miriam and Aaron?

Because Aaron and Miriam do not actually rebuke their brother over his sin. They never confront Moses about the hurt he’s presumably caused Zipporah and his children, they never tell Moses that he is not exemplifying and modeling the importance of family that had been painstakingly forged in Genesis, they never ask Moses to consider his actions in the context of their parents’ legacy. There is a lot Aaron and Miriam could have said to Moses to get him to see his mistake, but they chose to say nothing.

Instead, they speak behind his back. This is the sin of lashon hara (“idle speech”) that is considered in Judaism to be akin to murder, adultery and idolatry. Importantly, it does not matter that Miriam and Aaron speak the truth about Moses. False speech is almost always prohibited in Judaism, and true speech about another person that serves no productive or elevated purpose is almost always prohibited, as well. 

God, who could have created the world with a proverbial snap of His fingers, instead does so with nine “God saids.” Just as God created the world with His words, we create worlds with our words. This passage in Numbers shows that we need to be as careful with our word creations as God was with His.

Mark Gerson, a devoted Jew, is an entrepreneur and philanthropist who (along with his wife, Rabbi Erica Gerson) is perhaps the world’s largest individual supporter of Christian medical missions. He is the co-founder of African Mission Healthcare (AMH) and the author of a forthcoming book on the Haggadah: The Telling: How Judaism’s Essential Book Reveals the Meaning of Life.  

Website: therabbishusband.com
Twitter: @markgerson
Podcast: The Rabbi’s Husband

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Single Mother: Faina’s Story

When they moved to Israel from Belarus, Faina and her husband had just come to faith in Christ and began attending a local congregation with their baby boy. Life was good, and she was happy.

But when she became pregnant again, she noticed disturbing changes. Money began disappearing, along with their electronic devices that could be sold. Then, her husband started staying out late at the bars after work—and when he finally stumbled in hours later, he reeked of alcohol.

With a baby on the way, she feared for their future, especially during moments when her son witnessed his father’s drunken behavior. She tried to help her husband and reached out to their pastor for counseling and support—but it was no use. He had stopped caring, and his self-destructive behavior grew worse.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and her husband suddenly left, with no warning. Alone with two small children, a pile of debt, and no income, Faina was lonely and afraid.

And then, hope arrived. Thanks to friends like you, Faina discovered CBN Israel. We paid Faina’s rent, and provided her with food, baby supplies, and food coupons for an entire month! As we helped her get back on her feet, she said gratefully, “I wish I could tell everyone who helped me how much I appreciate their support!” Faina found a new beginning.

And CBN Israel is also bringing hope, aid, and new beginnings to others in need, especially during this global pandemic. As the number of people in Israel needing our help soars, your support is crucial. You can share God’s love with elderly Holocaust survivors, refugees, and more—by offering groceries, shelter, and other necessities. Please consider a gift today!

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Weekly Devotional: Sinning Against Others

We often think that God takes more seriously the sins we commit against Him than those we commit against others. It’s not that we think we should sin against others, but we tend to allow ourselves a bit more freedom and grace for these sins. What does the Bible say about this?

The prophet Jeremiah announced to the leaders and people of Judah that God would judge them, with the destruction of Jerusalem and the kingdom, because they reneged on the covenant that they established to honor the year of release (in Hebrew the shmittah). The law of the shmittah required that every seventh year everyone set free his Hebrew slaves, both male and female, and settle all debts.

The people of Judah made a covenant to honor this commandment of God, but then they went back on it. After setting the slaves free, they forced them into slavery again. And God was furious.

Jeremiah declared that God had been pleased with the initial action of the people because their fathers had ignored the shmittah, but now, by turning back, they actually profaned God’s name.

Do we recognize that the way we treat those around us may profane the name of God? God’s name is at stake in how we conduct our human relations.

As a result of their action, God proclaimed destruction to the leaders and people of Judah by the sword, pestilence, and famine—making them a horror to all the earth. He would fill their land with their dead carcasses, and the city of Jerusalem and Judah would be destroyed because they violated the shmittah by sinning against their fellow human.

The Bible clearly demonstrates that God takes very seriously our treatment and behavior toward others, and that violating those relationships carries divine consequences. The way we treat others can profane God’s name and arouse His anger.

We often look at the brokenness within our world today, and we want to blame it on others, especially those we deem godless. Some of us may even long for God’s justice and vengeance against them.

But do we recognize His anger at how we treat others? Do we see that perhaps some of the devastation in our world comes as a result of us not following His commands about human relationships? Perhaps it’s our actions toward others that is the source of His name being profaned in our world.

PRAYER

Father, forgive us for not taking as seriously as You do our behavior toward those around us. Lord, we acknowledge that we cannot truly love You and serve You if we do not love and care for those around us. Help us to love and serve people as You do. Amen.

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Torah Reading Commentary: What We Crave

By Mark Gerson

The Torah, in Numbers 11, offers a tantalizing possibility. In so doing, the Torah performs its wonder in guiding us toward a happier, better, and more meaningful life today—in this case by showing us what might be the most fundamental human need and what it means to be created in the image of God. 

In the previous chapter, Moses pleads with his beloved Gentile father-in-law, Jethro, to stay with the Jews for what would become the crucial final months in the wilderness en route to the promised land. He tells Jethro that he had been “as eyes for us” and uses the term “good” several times in describing their situation. Without substantively commenting, Jethro declines, saying that he will return to his family instead. 

Does Jethro—the “eyes” of the Jews—see the situation as something other than “good”? 

Three days after Jethro departs, the Jews start behaving “like complainers.” What a phrase—“like complainers”! The language indicates that they are not actually complaining. And how could we be? We Jews are protected by God from the heat of the day and the cold of the night, we are led by the great Moses and his remarkable siblings, we are spiritually nourished by the Torah, we have defeated every external enemy, we are en route to the promised land, and we are fed by manna reliably delivered from Heaven that tastes like “wafers dipped in honey.”  

With our needs completely fulfilled, we have nothing to complain about—yet we are “like complainers.” Is that because people always complain? Has complaining become a reflex action or a default posture? Whether that is true or false, it is certainly something to think about. 

The Torah’s lesson does not stop there. It asks us an even more profound question: Could it be that the people who are acting “like complainers” really have something to complain about? 

The Torah teaches us, in another remarkable phrase, that the people “craved a craving.” Craved a craving? Isn’t a craving something that we seek to satiate? We crave coffee to wake up in the morning, ice cream to cool down on a summer day, or a relationship to alleviate loneliness—the whole point is to satisfy the craving! 

Let’s see what the people crave. They crave the “fish … cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic” they ate in Egypt—and “complain” that “we have nothing to anticipate but the manna.” Why would they crave the aforementioned foods and disdain the manna—which, as the ancient Rabbis interpreted, could taste like wafers dipped in honey or anything else the people imagined. If they want cucumbers or melons, all they have to do is to imagine that the manna is that—and presto, it effectively is!

But effectively is not good enough. Those foods, which seem quite diverse, have one thing in common: They do not grow on trees. They all come from the ground. In order to enjoy them, one has to work for them. 

The “like complainers” demonstrate through action their problem with manna. They gather it and “grind it in a mill or pound it in a mortar and cook it in a pot or make it into cakes.” These ancient Jews took the perfect food—and worked it. This is interesting. Why do we work things? Or, more precisely, why do we think that we need to work things? The obvious answer: to make them suitable for our consumption. But if that were the case, then why would our ancestors have worked something that was already perfect? 

Because we really are created in God’s image. The first thing that God does in the Torah is to create—light, water, the sun, the moon, animals, people, everything. God, being God, didn’t have to create anything. He could have snapped His divine fingers and had everything appear at once. But he values the process, pausing and naming his creations—and deeming some good, some very good, and some neither. If God needs to create, then so do those created in His image. 

The ramifications of this phenomenon are observed in the Talmud, the canonical book of Torah commentary from early in the first millennium. Rav Kahana observes that a person prefers a kav (“a measure of grain”) of his own produce to nine kav of another’s—and Rabbi Ben Heh Heh said, “According to the effort is the reward.” It has, this decade, been demonstrated by social scientists from Yale, Harvard and Duke as the Ikea Effect. “The more effort people put into a pursuit,” these scientists describe, “the more they come to value it.” In their study, consumers were willing to pay 63% more for an item that they constructed than for one that was constructed for them.  

This is one of dozens of examples of how 21st-century social science is confirming Torah truths. And it reminds us that we have the same psychology as our ancestors in the Torah. Still, it leaves one question: What craving does each of us crave? 

Mark Gerson, a devoted Jew, is an entrepreneur and philanthropist who (along with his wife, Rabbi Erica Gerson) is perhaps the world’s largest individual supporter of Christian medical missions. He is the co-founder of African Mission Healthcare (AMH) and the author of a forthcoming book on the Haggadah: The Telling: How Judaism’s Essential Book Reveals the Meaning of Life.  

Website: therabbishusband.com
Twitter: @markgerson
Podcast: The Rabbi’s Husband

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Single Mother: Yamit’s Story

When the terror attack happened years ago in Jerusalem, Yamit believed her husband had fully recovered. Yet the attack left him with a severe case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It surfaced years later—long after he could file an insurance claim to get the treatment he needed.

His deep depression eventually cost him his job. As his condition worsened, he would sit all day in a dark room, crying and screaming. Yamit felt like she was watching him die. And her heart broke at how it affected her children. The couple divorced, and his mother took him back to Finland to be with his family. They all hoped that with good care and professional help, he would recover.

In fact, he greatly improved with treatment—so much, that the children joined their father in Finland. Feeling hopeful, Yamit planned to join them as soon as she tied up loose ends. She booked her ticket and shipped all their belongings to Finland. But then, the world changed.

When COVID-19 struck, Israel enforced a strict lockdown; her flight was cancelled, and all her plans were on hold. Unable to work in the meantime, all her things had been shipped out, and her lease would end in a month, leaving her homeless and without money.

Thankfully, friends like you were there for her through CBN Israel. We gave her groceries and food vouchers and found housing for her until she can reunite with her family. And CBN Israel is helping so many during this pandemic and beyond—people in crisis who need resources, and a touch from God to survive and move forward.

Right now, the needs in the Holy Land are great—especially for vulnerable Holocaust survivors and immigrant families. Your gift can mean their survival. Thank you so much!

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Weekly Devotional: A Moment for Awe

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the world we live in? The daily grind, newscasts filled with bad news, an economic downturn, a frightening diagnosis, or simply the distractions of life? It’s easy to be overwhelmed. We can easily lose sight of God amidst the chaos. The world around us can make us feel numb and disconnected.

Life in the ancient world bore its own difficulties; it was a struggle to survive. In the midst of that ongoing struggle, the psalmist allowed himself a moment to let the grandeur and majesty of God to burst into his life.

“Oh Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth! … When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and stars, which You have ordained; what is man that You take thought of him?” (Psalm 8:1, 3-4 NASB).

The psalmist found himself overcome by the awesomeness of God evident in the power of His creation, as well as present in His attention to humanity. The greatness of creation emphasized the majesty of God and made the psalmist feel small, yet he was overcome by realizing that the God of creation placed us into this world He created.

Take a moment. Stop running through life and look at the created world around you. Get beyond yourself and circumstances—the bad news, the endless to-dos, the distractions and daily grind—and look to the heavens. Not with a passing glance. Look. Gaze. Feel. Recognize that the God who made heaven and earth is mindful of you. Allow a moment for awe. Let the grandeur of creation overwhelm you with God’s majesty.

We use the word “awesome” so frivolously today. It’s become so common that we do not fully allow ourselves to be captured by that which is truly awesome.

The cure for our societal numbness and the feeling of being disconnected is to connect with God, to see Him as He is. Not as the solution to our problems, nor as one who waits upon our needs. He created the world and everything in it. He sustains it and rules over it, even when we don’t see Him. To encounter true awe, we must go beyond ourselves and come face-to-face with His majesty: “Oh Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!”

Create moments of awe in your day. Allow yourself a break from the chaos and distractions of life to capture a new perspective of God, His majesty, and His care for you.

PRAYER
“Oh Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth! … When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and stars, which You have ordained; what is man that You take thought of him?” Amen.

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Torah Reading Commentary: If Moses Needed a Mentor, Don’t We All Need One?

By Mark Gerson

Every week in synagogue, we Jews read a portion (a parsha) of the Torah, scheduled so that we complete the Torah in an annual cycle. The parsha that was read last week was Beha’aloscha, which is in the middle of the Book of Numbers. Coming after the unforgettable foundational stories of Genesis, the spectacular liberation in Exodus, the laws decreed in Leviticus, and before the great summing up in Deuteronomy, the Book of Numbers is sometimes overlooked. This underrated book of the Bible covers the almost 40 years between the Exodus and the Book of Deuteronomy, when the Jews are poised to enter the promised land. This journey is full of gripping stories, important rules and—most significantly—remarkably astute and highly practical guidance to help us live better, happier, and more meaningful lives today.

The main actor in this journey—as in each book of the Torah except for Genesis—is Moses. He has demonstrated moral courage in leaving the comforts of the palace to stand with his people against the evil Pharaoh, physical courage in fighting to protect the vulnerable, fortitude in negotiating on God’s behalf to free the Jews, leadership in conducting the greatest escape in military history, vision in betting the future of the Jewish people on education in an almost entirely illiterate world, and tenacity in guiding an often-maddening people to a promised land that they are not ready for.

It was the most challenging career imaginable.

Throughout most of it, Moses has a mentor: his beloved father-in-law, Jethro—a Gentile who is a Midianite priest. It is Jethro who gives Moses a home, a job, and a family when Moses flees from his step-grandfather who is trying to kill him. It is this Gentile priest whom Moses rushes to greet immediately after the Exodus.

Jethro, upon hearing the firsthand account from Moses, feels “prickles of joy” and says, “Baruch Hashem” (“Blessed be God”). Jethro is not the first person in the Torah to say what has become the seminal blessing for Jews. He is the sixth. The other five are, like Jethro, Gentiles.

Jethro, therefore, enters a Jewish world where the practice of learning from Gentiles was well-established. When Jethro sees Moses right after the Exodus, he tells the Jewish leader that it is “not good” to judge every dispute himself—and recommends that Moses, in order to preserve his sanity and empower others, create a judicial system. Moses immediately complies.

We next hear about Jethro almost four decades later, in Parsha Beha’aloscha. Moses, who is most likely estranged from his wife, seemingly has not seen Jethro in a while. Moses describes his situation to Jethro, using the word “good” several times, and asks Jethro to go with them. Jethro refuses. Moses persists with one of the most instructive lines in Scripture: “You have been as eyes for us.”

With this short statement, Moses teaches us about the importance of mentors. Immersed in our own situations, we are in danger of being guided by ideas that might no longer apply, of sticking with old interpretations of situations that might have changed, and of missing warning signs hidden in the familiar. We often need someone else to be our eyes.

In the Torah, that person is often a Gentile. Abraham has King Melchizedek, Judah has Hirah, Moses has Jethro, and all the people have Caleb. It is often the loving and concerned outsider, the friend who can see his friend’s challenges from a different vantage point, who can offer the most astute observations and the most valuable advice.

This insight from the Torah applies to nations, as well. The best book ever written on the United States, Democracy in America, was written in the 1830s by a young French visitor, Alexis de Tocqueville. Today, those who understand Israel best—from a historical, political, economic, social, and religious perspective—are often evangelical Christians, who show their “eyes” for the Jewish state in churches and homes throughout the country and through organizations like CBN Israel, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), and Eagles’ Wings.

Jethro does not go with Moses, and we do not hear from Jethro again. Next week, we will see the tragic consequences of the disappearance of this relationship. We will understand why Moses is right that he needs Jethro’s “eyes”—in ways that he does not yet realize—which itself demonstrates why he needs the eyes of his Gentile friend and mentor.

In the meantime, we can all be grateful for the “eyes” in our lives—particularly those of loving outsiders who are, in the most genuine and meaningful sense, our irreplaceable friends and partners.

Mark Gerson, a devoted Jew, is an entrepreneur and philanthropist who (along with his wife, Rabbi Erica Gerson) is perhaps the world’s largest individual supporter of Christian medical missions. He is the co-founder of African Mission Healthcare (AMH) and the author of a forthcoming book on the Haggadah: The Telling: How Judaism’s Essential Book Reveals the Meaning of Life.  

Website: therabbishusband.com
Twitter: @markgerson
Podcast: The Rabbi’s Husband

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