Parshat Beha’alotcha: A Cloudy Voyage

A Cloudy Voyage

Rabbi Nechemia Krakover is Principal of  Neveh Channah High School, Named in Memory of Anna Ehrman

Rabbi Nechemia KrakoverOne of the greatest revolutions in recent years – one which has significantly impacted the way we travel – was the introduction of the navigation app, Waze.  It has become such a crucial tool for anyone hitting the road that it is hard to imagine how we managed to find our way and get around before it entered our lives. 

The fact that we are suddenly able to arrive at any destination anywhere in the world with no great difficulty has not only changed our perception of what it means to navigate, but has also revolutionized travel planning.  However, every good thing has its drawbacks.

Although Waze has certainly made it easier to plan a trip and navigate to any given destination, it has undermined our ability to self-navigate, turning us into disoriented people with no sense of direction. So much so, that we often have no idea where we are.  Even if we have travelled a road many times before, we no longer remember what the way is really like, nor are we truly familiar with the road.

The application which aims to help us find our way in any given place, has rendered us more dependent, less creative and less able to find our way. 

This is not only the case when one sets out on a trip using a navigation app; it is also true of the voyage of life, and how we choose to navigate through it.  On the one hand, the better the guidance and the more accurate the directions – the better our chances of reaching our desired destination.  On the other hand, this dependency on external guidance and directions makes us less competent and takes away our sense of responsibility. 

Good guidance can be defined as assistance that is meaningful, yet does not render the person on the receiving end impotent or incapable. 

When it comes to education, this notion is all the more important.  Educational wisdom is all about finding the equilibrium between giving guidance and leaving room for self-growth; offering assistance and granting independence.  Educators have to know how to lead from behind, so to speak.  Pointing the individual towards the paved road but still leaving open options and undetermined factors along the way, such that the individual is always presented with growing opportunities that will teach them that it is more rewarding to get to one’s destination by making an effort. 

Our portion depicts this very process.

Parshat Bechukotai gives a detailed account of the Israelites’ wanderings in the desert, a voyage led by a pillar of cloud.  It was the cloud that determined the walking pace and the distance that would be covered each time; it was the cloud that decided where the people would camp, and when they would set out again on their journey.  However, although the cloud led the way, there was always an element of surprise.  The people never knew in advance when they would journey ahead and when they would be told to stop and set up camp.  Every time there was some sort of change, the people had to cope with the “cloud’s decision”, so to speak.  Furthermore, the cloud, by its very nature, made it impossible for anyone to see the road ahead.  In fact, the Israelites’ journey across the desert was a foggy and unclear one. 

Why did God choose to lead His people through the wilderness in this fashion?  Why did it have to be in the midst of a cloud, with great uncertainty and no clear horizon?

The answer to this is that the purpose of the journey was not only to reach a specific destination; rather, the voyage in itself was meaningful, in that it taught the People of Israel to take responsibility and make an effort, instead of simply relying on Divine guidance. 

Journeys interwoven with trials and tribulations make for stronger travelers.  Complexity and hardship bring to surface hidden strengths.  Uncertainty evokes great faith.

The People of Israel were required to have more than just faith in their leader, Moshe, or even in God Almighty Himself.  First and foremost, they had to have some faith in their own strengths and capabilities.  These, in turn, would not only enable them to cope with the unknown, but would help them grow from the cloudy uncertainty. 

With the right perspective, uncertainty can produce people of great magnitude and faith – so much more so than humdrum days and regular routine ever could. 

If we only allow our educational path to be strewn with islands of uncertainty, we have a better chance of letting our students’ innermost strengths break surface. This would not only be a blessing to them, but the entire world would benefit by it.

But all on condition that we, too, are ready to have faith, to be on a constant learning curve, and, more importantly – to know when to let go…

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