There are three obvious points of view that we learn in this week’s Torah reading. The first is the perspective of Moshe, the leader of our people, who ascends Mount Sinai. The second is the view of Yehoshua, the warrior, who eventually succeeds Moshe. The third is the perspective of B’nai Yisrael at the bottom of the mountain. The thing is, if that is all we see, we will miss something of great import.
What about God’s view of things? Our Torah reading shows God getting angry, telling Moshe: “… Your people … have acted basely,” and then commanding Moshe to hurry down to them from the mountaintop.
Moshe does not immediately do as God commands. Being as close to God as a person can get, he could feel God’s anger. Moshe tries to calm God’s anger with the purpose of saving B’nai Yisrael. Moshe begins his descent, only after feeling he had been successful. About halfway down, he finds Yehoshua waiting for him to arrive. Yehoshua perceives everything he sees and hears from the point of view of a soldier. From his view midway between the top and bottom of Mount Sinai, the sounds from below are reminiscent of the sounds of battle. Why did he not rush down to try and quell the insurrection or rush up to tell Moshe that there was a battle below?
When Yehoshua gives Moshe the news, what does Moshe do? He stops, listens, and lets Yehoshua know that the sounds from below are not the sounds of battle, but the sounds of B’nai Yisrael crying out because their faith had been shaken.
Knowing that Yehoshua will be his successor, Moshe felt compelled to teach Yehoshua that sitting and waiting on the middle of the mountain for him was not what a future leader should be doing. If Yehoshua is to be a successful leader, he must learn to listen more closely and to try and understand things from many different perspectives.
I think the reason Yehoshua waited was because he may have been suffering from earlier war induced Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The warlike noise he heard coming from below may have caused flashbacks that could have inhibited him from taking necessary steps.
As for the talk that Moshe had with Yehoshua, even though he had no idea what PTSD was, it is possible that Moshe sensed Yehoshua’s fear and wanted to console him. Then Moshe let Yehoshua know that if he were ever going to be a good leader, he would have to learn to deal with his past and look at things with a fresh perspective.
There is a message here for all of us, and that is that finding a middle ground is something we would all be wise to learn. When someone sees the entire world from only one perspective, they will do what Yehoshua did. They will rush to interpret things from their world view.
Recently, during a conversation, a woman told me that she was having a great deal of difficulty with her relationship with her father, a Holocaust survivor who is in his 90s. For years, she has been taking him out for lunch once a week. She complained that the lunches were getting increasingly difficult since she and her father got angrier at each other each week.
I asked her where she and her father sit in the restaurant. She said she always sits across from him so she can see his face. I suggested that the next time they go out, she should sit next to him instead.
To my delight, she called me the next week and said, “You know what, Rabbi? I saw my dad from a whole new angle today, a whole new perspective. It was nice. Thank you.”
Something as simple as seeing things from a different side, from a different angle, can cause amazing things to happen.
Rabbi Richard Perlman leads Temple Ner Tamid in Peabody.