Every child is fascinated by the problem of the caterpillar and the butterfly. But most of us, forget these things and become absorbed in matters of consequence. Scientists form one group of individuals in whom childish traits persist: for the adult scientist still wonders about the problem of the caterpillar and the butterfly. He has never grown out of that exasperating period of childhood characterized by the eternal, “Why?”
Perhaps creative genius is simply the persistence of childishness into adulthood in certain individuals: The persistence of curiosity to make scientists and philosophers, Torah Scholars and Servants of God; of wonder to make poets and painters, rabbis and “prayors”. Of imagination, of dream stuff, in all these various categories, though it may be wiser not to pursue the childish analogy too far.
Which is exactly what happens in this week’s portion; The Children of Israel took the analogy of childishness too far. Moses even complains to God, “Did I conceive this entire people or did I give birth to it, that You say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a suckling, to the Land that You swore to its forefathers?” (Numbers 11:12) Rashi compares them to, “A child escaping from school.”
I can’t imagine watching the Clouds of Glory signal the camp to move without a sense of childish wonder. I can’t imagine eating Manna without a child’s excitement. I can’t imagine studying Torah without the fascination that made me treat my father as the original Google with my incessant insistence on “Why?”
However, childish wonder does not mean that we must act as children. We cannot eat at God’s table laden with treats only to complain about what’s missing. How can someone who maintains childish wonder when studying Torah simply accept ideas as a child being told what to do, without asking “Why?” Should that spirit of a child be expressed as belief in spiritual super heroes who are angelic since birth? Are we not taking that childish wonder a little too far?
Perhaps the people looked to Moshe with that same childish wonder. He went up to heaven and spent 40 days and nights with God. Wow! He is beyond us! He brought Manna. He brought water from a rock. He can do anything. He became their father and mother.
So, God instructed Moshe to appoint the Seventy Elders and He emanated Moshe’s spirit on to them and they began to prophecy. They experienced that Moshe was not some kind of super hero; he was what all of them could be. He too shared the childish wonder over God’s words and miracles, but as an adult on a serious search.
Perhaps we can read the name of the portion, Behaalotecha, as “When you grow up!” or, “Grow Up! Why Doncha?”
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