As clergy, I do a lot of supporting other people. It might be through a lengthy phone call, a quick text, or an email exchange. It might come in the form of a hug or a gentle hand on the back. Support comes in the form of MealTrains and coffee dates, walking and talking. To be supported at a basic level means being seen. But as any leader will tell you, the support provided by the leader can only happen if the leader is in turn supported. Exhaustion is not a badge of honor. When I’m worn out and in need of rest, Duncan is there to pick up the slack. At various times, I’ve had generous offers of meal deliveries when I’m stressed, or a bag of chocolate to brighten my mood.
Returning from a month of sabbatical, I’ve been blessed to be supported by others during this time away. From service and lifecycle duties, to program coordination, to even just remembering that I’ve been officially “offline,” colleagues, congregants, and friends have helped me make the most of this rejuvenating time by lifting me up in various ways.
It’s fitting that we see this in our Torah portion this week, as Moses tirelessly leads the Israelites across the sea. Parshat Beshalach is notable for showing the power of song. We find the children of Israel on their journey out of Egypt into the wilderness. The Egyptians go after them, but God intervenes and saves them. The Israelites continue through moments of bliss and wonder at the new, free world around them, as well as moments marking the occasional temper tantrum at God because the journey through the desert isn’t perfect. God provides manna, and the people want more. God provides water, and the people complain that it doesn’t meet their standards.
After the Israelites cross the sea, they end up in a battle with Amalek near Rephidim. The text conveys that every time Moses lifts his arms, the Israelites are successful in their battle, and every time he puts them down, they’re taken over by Amalek. As you can imagine, Moses’s arms get tired. Aaron and their companion Hur from the Tribe of Judah notice this; they see his exhaustion and help him rest on a rock. When that isn’t enough, they even hold his arms up to support him.
Is there any more relevant connection to what dedicated leadership looks like? I feel for Moses, being put through so much for the sake of community without the ability to really rest, but of course that’s the work of so many leaders. And like other leaders, Moses relies on the support of those around him to hold him up while he serves others, albeit literally in his case. While I’m certainly not Moses, I do feel the strong support of those around me when you hold up my arms to allow me to carry on, and I’m grateful for it every day.