Hot N Cold

Stephen Richer
Hot N Cold
Chukat
Numbers 19:1 – 22:1
June 18, 2010

“Fame’s A Fickle Friend.”

I first heard this maxim from Professor Lockhart of Harry Potter, a character so hopelessly inane and pompous that I discredited everything he said. Fortunately, this wasn’t my last chance to learn the lesson. In addition to appearing in Harry Potter (the second most printed book in the world); the lesson is also taught in The Bible (the most printed book in the world).

That fame, and judgment in general, is fleeting is apparent throughout the Torah, but the message is especially evident in this week’s Torah portion. God, creator of the world, wielder of the ten great plagues, distributor of manna, is hit or miss with the Jewish people. When He frees them from Egypt, He’s pretty great. But at other times, the Jewish people forget about Him and His commandments, or they openly scorn Him.

In this Portion, the Israelite’s “complaint de jour” is that they don’t have enough water,

“The congregation had no water; so they assembled against Moses and Aaron.

The people quarreled with Moses, and they said, ‘If only we had died with the death of our brothers before the Lord.

Why have you brought the congregation of the Lord to this desert so that we and our livestock should die there?

Why have you take us out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place; it is not a place for seeds, or for fig trees, grapevine, or pomegranate trees, and there is no water to drink.”

Yes. God’s fame with the Israelites fades quickly. Perhaps a better encapsulation of this wisdom is the oft-heard phrase, “What have you done for me lately?”

The Portion teaches that the status of giver or celebrant is momentary and that you can never rest on your laurels. But the Portion also gives an idea as to the relative merit of the recipients, one of whom is fickle, and one of whom is constant. It is obviously the Israelites who are fickle in this case. As suggested from the above passage, they seem like something out of Katy Perry’s “Hot N Cold” song,

“You change your mind
Like a girl changes clothes

‘Cause you’re hot then you’re cold
You’re yes than you’re no
You’re in then you’re out
You’re up then you’re down

You’re wrong when it’s right
It’s black and it’s white
We fight, we break up
We kiss, we make up.”

God’s periodic punishments of the Israelites make His distaste for such caprice obvious.

In contrast, there is Moses. He is the leader of the Israelites and the interlocutor of God because his devotion is constant. Even when it looks like the Israelites are neglected, he never abandons God; he remembers God’s past accomplishments and kindness. Similarly, when the Israelites forget the way of God, Moses does not run away from them; he remembers that they are generally a good people.

And for this constancy, Moses gains the trust of both God and the Israelites. When God is consumed by anger and wants to destroy the Israelites, he puts his trust in the level headedness of Moses. The Israelites often make mutinous complaints when in a spot of trouble, but in the end, they rely on Moses’ steady judgment.

As human beings, we’re susceptible to highs and lows, ups and downs. But to the extent that we can level these attitudinal fluctuations, to the extent that we can judge people by their complete histories, not single moments, we will become better leaders whose judgment will be trusted.