Moses’s declaration at the beginning of Deuteronomy goes some way to explain why it was so important to institute a system of shared leadership. From Parashat Yitro onwards, the burden of caring for and organising the Israelites belonged to a number of hierarchies, not to Moses alone.
Deuteronomy 1:12 stands out this week because it is Shabbat Chazon, the Shabbat prior to Tishah b’Av, the most mournful day of our year. On Tishah b’Av we mark the destruction of the Temples, as well as many other disasters said to have befallen us on this date in Jewish history. But we also remember that the cause of the Temple’s destruction was sinat chinam, baseless hatred (Talmud Yoma 9b).
It seems this is a common theme running through Jewish history to the current day; strife, burdens, complaining – but Torah reminds us that no one leader can contain the diverse grumbles and angst of a Jewish population; and perhaps of any population!
We channel our communal mourning and sadness into the three-week period around Tishah b’Av, giving it a structured outlet. But of course we can’t limit when we are feeling burdened and frustrated to three weeks of the year. Just as the Israelites did, we need to develop for ourselves as individuals structures and supports that create space and time for letting out our worries, negativity and stress, so that they do not become unmanageable for us.
But those structures also need looking after, according to Torah. No one person can bear the burdens alone. We all experience strife and difficult times, but we can’t always turn to the same sources for support (unless they are professionals at doing so). Perhaps at this time of mourning and sadness, the Torah is asking us to also take care of those who would take care of us.