Shaya Cohen -


The Process of Growing Up

The Jewish people were born as a nation during the Exodus, passing through split waters. After birth comes childhood and then adolescence – their time in the wilderness. Lessons, from the Golden Calf to the Korach rebellions to various plagues, were learned the hard way before they were learned at all. Like children, the people complained whenever things were not precisely as they wanted them.

Throughout the time in the wilderness, G-d functioned as a helicopter parent. The ever-present pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night meant we always knew He was there. Moses was His prophet, and every question we had could be answered, directly from the source. In the wilderness, we knew we were never alone. G-d’s presence (even if it came with strict instructions and discipline) was never in doubt.

But children do not grow into adults in such an environment. At some point, parents have to back away, and even – gently or not – deliver a swift kick in the backside to propel their children out the door and into adulthood. G-d knew that we cannot grow as individuals or as a people if the connection remains too strong and obvious, if open miracles are always available to us. So G-d needed to push us out of the wilderness and back into the real world.

This process is never an easy one, and, just as with young adults, it has its ups and downs.

Our first experiment with adulthood was when the people were still in the wilderness. The princes of each tribe were sent out of the protective wilderness canopy to tour the land, seemingly entirely on their own. Their reactions were the same as those of a young child in the mall at the moment she realizes that she cannot see her mommy: the spies freaked out. Even assurances that G-d would indeed never abandon the people could not quell their fears. And so an entire generation had to die, an additional forty years had to pass, before the next generation, a new people that had never internalized slavery in Egypt or understood the terror that was the Exodus, could replace the old. The lesson for all of us is to not flag or lose faith, even and especially in the face of adversity.

But G-d not only needed us to re-enter the real world; He needed us to learn how to rely on ourselves as well. When the daughters of Tzelofchad brought a question to Moses, He immediately consulted with G-d because, after all, G-d was there and available.

But this is not how things worked once we left the wilderness! Post-wilderness, G-d’s presence is sufficiently subtle that most people are not even aware of His existence. And so we have to make do with human guidance. Today, if someone has a question concerning Jewish Law, Rabbis engage with all the relevant sources, argue their cases, and make a ruling. Indeed, we have a principle concerning Jewish Law that “It is not in Heaven” – that once the Torah was in our hands, the responsibility for deriving the Law is also no longer determined by G-d.

But Moses did not seek his own counsel – he went and asked G-d. Is it possible that perhaps Moses should not have done so? Perhaps a leader who consulted G-d instead of making an argument himself may well have been the wrong leader for the time after the wilderness?

Today we have no direct and clear link to the divine. And we even lack the mystical Urim v’Tumim, the oracle-like devices that helped the High Priest to answer questions, perhaps as training wheels between direct prophecy and parental withdrawal, before the people and their leaders had to learn how to ride the bike without anyone else holding them up. Today, we are meant to stand up, to be full partners.

To get there, we have to grow into the role. The helicopter parent has to withdraw enough so that the child is forced to act as if the parent is not even there. Then, when the child has become an adult, then we are welcomed back into a full relationship with the divine. Not a relationship in which G-d is there through power, or through signs and wonders, but instead because we are able to simply know He is there.

Perhaps this helps explain why, to many Jews, the Golden Age still lies in the future and not the past. Not because G-d did not deliver in the past. But because we are not yet were we need to be.

Comments are welcome!

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