Drash on Parashat Beha'alotcha 2018
Rabbi Allison RH Conyer
Etz Chayim Progressive Synagogue
I remember very clearly, some 25 years ago, when I was invited to sit for an interview for consideration for entry into Rabbinical School. During the interview, this esteemed panel of Hebrew Union College professors, rabbis and lay leaders, asked me a number of thought-provoking and challenging questions. But, the one I remember best, the one I was completely unprepared for was: “Did you receive a calling?” My graceful, unedited response was: “Do you mean on the phone?”
I was stunned. The concept of “receiving a calling” was Christian to me. “A calling” was so alien from my secular upbringing, that I actually thought they were joking. They weren’t. Luckily, my naiveté did not impede my acceptance into rabbinical school. For the next decade, I parked my cynicism and pre-conceived notions of “a calling” and considered the questions: “Was I called to the rabbinate? Are all of us called to do the work we do? Is our life work part of a master plan, a Divine calling to create a G-d’s vision for a better world?” I have read, discussed, and observed that each individual is gifted with different skills, talents and interests, as well as challenged by different life circumstances along one’s path. The opportunity to create something personally meaningful and beneficial in a broader context, this is “the calling.” We all receive it. The challenge is: Can we hear it? Can we distinguish the signal through the extraneous noise? What do we do with it once we’ve received it?
This week’s parsha, Beha’alotcha, includes a small section about a calling, about how and why the people are called and what they are to do once they’ve been called. The Torah tells us that two silver trumpets were to be made to summon the people, call them to action and set them on their journey (Num. 10:2). When both trumpets were blown in long blasts, the whole community was summoned. When only one trumpet was blown, only the leaders were summoned before G-d. The short blasts communicated the message to move forward (Num. 10:3-7). The trumpets were also to be sounded as a call to battle and to announce a celebration and offering to G-d (Num. 10:9-10). The blasts were also sounded each time a cloud appeared over the mishkan (the tabernacle, or portable Temple, while the Israelites were wandering in the desert), creating an auditory announcement and acknowledgement of the Divine presence in their midst. In other words, the trumpets were callings to the people to gather together, to commence a journey, to prepare for battle, to celebrate, and to acknowledge G-d’s presence.
Our ancestors needed a tangible reminder to call people together and jump start them into action. Our ancestors needed a tangible reminder that spoke directly to their senses creating an awareness of the Divine in their midst. Our ancestors needed a jolt to be prepared for difficult times and a reminder to celebrate time and joyous occasions. Our ancestors needed an audible sign to move forward in their journeys to fulfil their destiny.
So, what’s the connection to our personal “callings”? We no longer have a tangible reminder calling us to action, beckoning us to move on towards our own promised land. We are forced to stop and listen with all of our senses to the call that beckons us, that guides us, that protects us, that binds us to others and leads us on our sacred journey.
There is a wonderful story about a man who travels from his village to witness an extraordinary act. In the foreign village, a fire broke out and started to spread. A man walked to the top of a tower and blew the shofar in a long blast, then short blasts, then a long blast again. He watched as the villagers formed lines from the location of the fire to the river. He watched as the villagers filled and passed down the buckets of water and eventually put out the fire. He said to himself “I’ve got to get me one of them!”
So, he went back to his own village with a new shofar. When a fire broke out in his home village, he climbed to the top of the highest tower and blew the shofar. And, guess what?... Nothing happened. No one did anything differently and the house burnt down.
The call of the shofar, like the call of the trumpets, is only effective if we hear it and we know what to do when we hear it. Each one of us, I truly believe, has a calling. Each one of us is given the challenge to hear the calling, figure out what it is and how our calling will move us on our life’s journey. Each one of us is called to use our G-d given skills, talents, interests, and challenges to the best of our abilities to strengthen our communities and enhance the world around us. May we each be blessed to hear and answer our calling.