You Do You’ll Part, I’ll Do Mine
Rabbi David Paskin
In Numbers 3:15-16 we read, “And HASHEM spoke unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, saying: ‘Number the children of Levi by their fathers’ houses, by their families; every male from a month old and upward you shall number them.’ And Moses numbered them according to the word of the HASHEM, as he was commanded.”
Rashi wonders aloud what the Torah means when it says, “according to the word of HASHEM”. Wouldn’t it have been enough to say Moses counted the children “as he was commanded”? Why the extra phrase?
In answer to his own question, Rashi imagines a conversation between Moses and God. Upon being commanded to count the children Moses argued, “How can I enter their tents to count? Isn’t that a violation of their privacy?” God responds, “okay, tell you what - you go around to each tent, stand outside and a voice from heaven will tell you how many children are in that tent.” To which Moses replies, “If you are going to tell me how many children are inside then why do I have to shlep around to stand outside of each tent?! Just tell me now and save me the trouble.” God answers, “You do your part and I’ll do mine.”
Throughout the Torah, God relies upon us to be partners in creating the world we seek. God commands Noah to build an Ark to save his family and the creatures of the earth from the impending flood; God challenges Abraham and Sarah to leave everything behind, journey to a new land and become the parents of a new nation; God calls Moses and Aaron to return to Egypt and serve as God’s voice to free that nation and guide them to God’s mountain; and God calls on Moses to do his part by going to each tent, standing outside, and listening for God’s voice.
Like Moses at the Sea of Reeds we very often beg for God’s intervention forgetting that God will do God’s part if only we would do ours. The midrash teaches this when it suggests that it was not Moses who brought about the parting of the sea, but Nachshon ben Aminadav who was brave enough to walk into the waters and risk drowning all because he understood that it is not enough to have faith in God - we must also have faith in ourselves. We must see our own capacity to part the waters of injustice, battle the forces of evil and to repair the world.
There are indeed times when it would seem easier to just wait for God to tell us how many children are in each tent. It may be more convenient to wait for God’s “justice to well up as waters, and (God’s) righteousness as a mighty stream.” (Amos 5:24) But as Father Mulcahy from M*A*S*H taught us, “A faith of convenience is a hollow faith.”
We are not a people convenience but a people of commandment. God commands us to do our part. Only when we heed this call will every person in our world be counted, respected and loved.