Shabbat Shalom: Lifeguarding in the Desert

Jul 3, 2024 | Article

By: Bethany Friedlander
PJ Library Manager

Take a look at a neighborhood summer pool or camps. The people in red suits and sandals are the leaders of these spaces. They are responsible for everything from saving lives to reminding kids not to run on the deck. They are tasked with reminding parents to be at arm’s length of their non-swimming littles and help run the snack shack. They sell swim diapers, clean the pool, add the chemicals, straighten the chairs, and check members in. Being the same age as many of the teens, they also must reprimand their peers for poor choices. It can be rough.

Imagine Moses in this Korach situation. Moses did not even request the lifeguard job. Between the burning bush, a bunch of plagues, falling manna, a lot of quail, and leading the Exodus from Egypt, Moses went through basic lifeguard training. In this week’s Torah portion, Korach, we find Moses on duty on the stand when Korach approaches saying “You have gone too far! For all the community are holy…why then do you raise yourself about G-d’s congregation” (and place yourself on the lifeguard stand)?

Moses has a ton of people in the pool. He is responsible for everyone at that moment. He has people grumbling about this and that, he must figure out how all these new laws work, he has his own family issues, and he is still the leader of an entirely new nation and not by his choice. Moses responds by telling Korach “in the morning” we can talk. Let’s head to the fire pit, make some smores and see what G-d really wants. Moses does not kick Korach out of the pool for talking to him while he was on the stand, but the next day, Korach and 250 men did not get to eat their smores. It is a hard story about leadership and communal responsibility. Leaders are responsible for leading, and the community has to be willing to let them lead. There are times to question that leadership and to change it, but Korach may have had bad timing.

Moses was responsible for keeping the community of newly freed Israelites afloat – in a desert! They had just learned to swim, were always pushing their safety limits and were searching for their place in the sea of new laws recently placed upon them. The community had to move on from the fire pan but Moses had to remain steadfast in his role as leader. He had to step up, repurpose the fire pans, and continue in his leadership role with the support of the community.

We, as a community, are responsible for letting the leaders lead by supporting them as well and allowing them to perform their roles responsibly and safely. So as summer comes into full gear, thank a lifeguard and those camp counselors. This doesn’t mean you should step away from your littles and expect others will save them. It doesn’t mean that these fallible humans on the stand and in the cabins make no mistakes. They are learning how to sit on the stand and lead. Make space for them to do so.

Please email Bethany Friedlander at with questions or comments.