Why is it that so many of our asks as parents are met with arguments from our children? Sometimes it feels as if there’s nothing I could say that would be accepted at face value without some sort of pushback. It’s not like the daily expectations have changed that much. For years we’ve been asking them every morning to get dressed, come downstairs, eat breakfast, and get in the car, only to be met with variations on “I can’t because . . .” Why are we still arguing about hard and fast rules that we’ve had for what feels like an eternity?
It is true, however, that every once in a while we start the day with no arguments, and Duncan and I find ourselves marveling at a morning without whining. Perhaps this is a little bit like what God must be feeling in our Torah portion this week. This week we begin the fourth book of the Torah, Sefer Bamidbar. The Israelites are now in the desert, and the groundwork for the structure of their future has been laid. Army leaders are appointed to lead alongside Moses and Aaron, a census is taken of the people, and we learn that the camps are situated in a specific order, each with a flag in the center that tells us which tribe is there. The time spent in Egypt is a distant memory at this point.
In chapter two, God asks the people to line up in order, according to their households and their ancestral inheritance. If you’ve been following along week to week, you know that anytime the Israelites feel uncomfortable or anytime they receive direction from Moses, they complain mightily about the task. Whether the complaint is about the taste of the water or the amount of food, their ability to complain, much like children, seems boundless. Yet, this week, the entire Israelite nation does what God asks without questioning, without asserting dominance or status.
Why this sudden change in response? The text is unclear. No real reason is given, except that chapter three of Bamidbar begins by recounting that Aaron’s sons died because they did not follow God’s procedures. Perhaps the Torah calls this out knowing that the Israelites have short-term memory issues, not unlike a toddler. On the other hand, it also stands to reason that the Israelites are doing their very best to follow those rules and show that they are committed to the future.
This is still a toddler nation we’re talking about, new to freedom and purpose. There are magical moments, but they’re also testing limits. This week’s parshah may serve as a helpful reminder to parents that eventually children will recognize the limits and expectations we set for them and understand that the decisions we make are out of love.