Through the Fog

While serving the synagogue it was my privilege to establish in Southern California, my wife and I frequently sailed our forty-four foot cutter to Catalina Island.  On that 26 mile jaunt, we often saw dolphins, whales, and other beguiling sea life.

When fog set in, I’d think of Florence Chadwick, who in 1952 set out to swim from Catalina to the mainland.  When fog obscured her goal, she lost her drive and abandoned her attempt. Despair defeated Florence.

After the fog lifted she was horrified to see that she had quit only half a mile from the beach.  Two months later, with the coastline visible, she tried again and succeeded.

Let’s understand this principle from Moses, who in one Scriptural account responds to Israel’s provocation with steadfast leadership while elsewhere in the Bible he responds to similar provocation with exasperation, hopelessness, and even despair.

In Exodus 16:2-3, the children of Israel complain against Moses and Aaron, who had just liberated them from hundreds of years of horrific slavery.  The Israelites pretend ridiculously to recall desirable circumstances in Egypt where they claim to have lacked nothing.  Frustratingly, they express remorse at having been taken from that Egyptian paradise. 

Without hesitation Moses sternly chastises them for grousing against God and assures them that they will soon see meat and bread. (Exodus 16:12) Through the remainder of chapter 16 Moses leads calmly and confidently.

A year later the Israelites again demanded meat. (Numbers 11:4) Hearing them grouching and kvetching, Moses was deeply distressed. (Numbers 11:10)

Instead of admonishing them as he did in Exodus, he cries out to God:

Why have you afflicted your servant? Why haven’t I found favor in your eyes
that you lay the burden of this entire people upon me?
(Numbers 11:11)

Moses renounces responsibility for the people and in hopeless anguish contemplates the impossibility of finding meat for the people. (Numbers 11:12-13).  Sliding swiftly into utter despair, he confesses himself incapable of carrying the people any further and begs God to end his life. (Numbers 11:14-15).

Moses seems so utterly demoralized that even when God promises to bring meat for the people, Moses reacts incredulously asking God if enough animals exist for them.  (Numbers 11:22)

One clear distinction between the two instances is that in Exodus, the Hebrews had just left Egypt.  While certainly an oppressive regime, at least Egypt was a known evil.  Their future in the desert however, was terrifyingly unknown.  Moses ‘cut-them-some-slack’ because he felt their fear partially excused their impudence.

The story in the 11th chapter of Numbers is quite different.  A year has elapsed during which God has unfailingly provided for their every need and Israel’s ingratitude is incomprehensible to Moses.  Instead of confronting them as a steadfast leader, he avoids them and laments his circumstances to God.  The goal of a strong, faithful nation that would trust in God was obscured by fog.  Despair defeats Moses.

Had I now been teaching a Sunday school class, this is where I’d leave it.  But I think far too highly of my Thought Tool readers and thus must offer you another golden nugget of ancient Jewish wisdom.

God’s solution was for Moses to select seventy elders to stand with him.  They didn’t have to do anything other than just stand with him.  Their firm vision and complete confidence was contagious.  Moses caught some of that confidence and defeated his despair.

By associating with those who recognize that God’s plan is good, we also come to see that our despair is born of our mistaken assumption that there is no goal. With the help of wise friends, we realize that the goal is still there, even if hidden by fog.

18 thoughts on “Through the Fog”

  1. Rabbi, for me, this was just the right message, at exactly the right time. “Thank you” is terribly insufficient. So, God bless you.

  2. Prepare to witness the nostalgic allure of Egypt for the faint-hearted who would regress and abandon the mission. Seek out the men of God in times of crisis for moral and logistical support. Isn’t it funny how Egypt never really dies? Just when you conquer an Egypt, up pops another Egypt: a set of restrictive circumstances that hold one’s life and fate in a deadly vise grip.

    Speaking of men of God, recently I read online the obituary of a tyrannical professor of science infamous for his callous, oft abusive treatment of students, at least verbally, sometimes physically, and still other times…well, we will not even go there. Earlier in life he pursued philosophy and came to identify as a pantheist. Isn’t this revealing? Seeing the design or the influence, the hand of God in all things is the mark of the humility of a genuine scientist. But ascribing blanket divinity to God’s creations is another thing entirely. Does this mean he thought a rattlesnake, a feline predator or a shark just as ‘divine’ as Man? Was this how he immorally justified his brutality to others?

    1. My foregone conclusion, purposely understated, is as follows: when a man who worships a false god rises to prominence, so often he becomes a Pharaoh who creates an Egypt for those who follow in his wake. This professor certainly was a Pharaoh who was mourned much less than his vainglorious obituary would lead us all to believe.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Ismael–
      I don’t know what your goal is. I know only my own. All I know is that you have at least one goal and I know that the fog can occasionally make you lose sight of it. I do hope the Thought Tool helps you dispel that fog and move purposefully towards achieving your goal.

  3. Very practical lesson taught here. Unless one is the only person on an island, there is no way to avoid negative unstable people. Moses could not change the hearts and mindsets of the people, yet he managed them somehow for the better with a good management team in place. Thanks again Rabbi.

  4. Charles Longstreth

    Jesus has spoken to me audibly in my mind. Am I crazy or could it be that he is the son of God? I’ve read that some Jews think he was a sorcerer.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Charles-
      With regard to the one question you ask, I would never diagnose anyone’s mental stability from a distance without an extensive in-person conversation.
      With regard to your two statements, the first is clearly one that nobody else but you can comment on, while the second is a kind of a non-sequitur. You see, the term “some Jews” covers an awful lot of people. I know some Jews who believe in the Divine source of Scripture (like me) and I know some Jews who think Disneyland is the greatest vacation spot in the world (not like me). I know some Jews who think that socialism is a moral way to organize society and I know some Jews who’re into gardening. You see, all that really matters to me is what ancient Jewish wisdom says not what some Jews think.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks so much, Kristin,
      We love our Catholic fans!
      Appreciate your kind words

  5. Should we avoid associating with Godless people? I’m the only religious child with 3 brothers and two sisters and I’m frequently torn between seeing them and avoiding the negative effect they can have on me. I find they do drag me down when I’m in their presence.
    Do I owe anything to them because they are family? Thanks

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Tom,
      Susan and I are considering answering your question on our “Ask the Rabbi” page if that’s okay with you. We think others would share your concerns.

  6. This TT is brilliant, and may wise men stand together to lift others out of the fog. A bright light shines on the motto that our nation’s currency expresses nicely: “In God We Trust.”

  7. I don’t know why or how but I’m happy to have found you. I end my day by reading out the thought. Thank you so very much.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thank you for finding us and writing, Leonard,
      We’re so happy to hear from you and hope that Thought Tools brings you sweet dreams, though I would rather think it doesn’t put you to sleep!

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