Matot - Masei - weekly Torah portion
This Shabbat we are going to finish the reading from the Book of Numbers, reading two portions on one Shabbat. Among others we read about an affair that makes Moses quite angry. The tries of Reuben and Gad have a large number of livestock. Noting that the land that they are currently on, east of the river Jordan, is good for the livestock, they prefer to stop their journey to the Promised Land and stay there. They do not want to continue and have a simple argument, “the land which the Lord [b]conquered before the congregation of Israel, is a land for livestock, and your servants have livestock.” They also add, “If we have found favor in your sight, let this land be given to your servants as a possession; do not take us across the Jordan.” This seems to anger Moses. He understands perfectly well that entering the Promised Land requires waging war against its current inhabitants, this is not an easy matter. His grave concern is sounded unequivocally, “Shall your brothers go to war while you yourselves sit here? Now why are you discouraging the sons of Israel from crossing over into the land which the Lord has given them?” which may sound somewhat gentle, but it is certainly not.
We should give credit to the leaders of the tribes who immediately understand the problem and change their attitude. They suggest, “We will build here sheepfolds for our livestock and cities for our little ones; but we ourselves will be armed ready to go before the sons of Israel, until we have brought them to their place, while our little ones live in the fortified cities because of the inhabitants of the land. We will not return to our homes until every one of the sons of Israel has possessed his inheritance.” Moses reacts favorably but cautiously to this proposal, and makes it conditional, “If you will do this, if you will arm yourselves before the Lord for the war, and all of you armed men cross over the Jordan before the Lord until He has driven His enemies out from before Him, and the land is subdued before the Lord, then afterward you shall return and be free of obligation toward the Lord and toward Israel, and this land shall be yours for a possession before the Lord. But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the Lord, and be sure your sin will find you out.” They repeat and emphasis, “your servants, everyone who is armed for war, will cross over in the presence of the Lord to battle”.
Wherever you celebrate, be proud of your Reform Jewish identity.
The tension between those who are in the Promised Land or are aiming to live within it to those who prefer to outside of it, seems to be instilled in us since many generations ago, dating back to those times and those events. There is an understanding that some of our people will find it better to live in places other than the Promised Land itself. They even receive an exemption from living here. But there is no exemption from the need to be actively involved in what is going on here. In fact it is not an option but rather an obligation to be part of what is happening here, and in fact be part of the leaders in doing so. It is necessary to influence in meaningful ways because without the People of Israel living in the Promised Land there is no real living for Jews outside of it. It is a force that unites the existence of the Jews as a People.
It is ever more important to stress these words today when there are those, even amongst our own People who either join the like of BDS or, maybe even worse, simply become indifferent and distance themselves away from all that is happening here. However, it is important to understand that what we are fighting for these days in Israel, while they may not necessarily be bloody wars, they are not less important. If we want to build here a society which is just, which is a model society, which implements the teachings of our prophets in ways that are appropriate for our days, we must have the commitment and involvement of all of our friends and supporters from abroad. It is an important and essential part of our fight here, it is required for our success and is the one that would mirror the contribution of the sons of Reuben and Gad and Manasseh.
It is now that we, the Reform Movement and our friends from the Conservative Movement, as well as everyone who disagrees with the monopoly on religion that is imposed in the State of Israel, ask everyone to come and join this just struggle. We need you if you live in Israel, and we need you from wherever you may be living at. It is not a time to shy away from it as this responsibility moves from generation to generation, LeDor vaDor. It is time that all of us, including Conservative and Reform Jews in Israel, will receive our fair share of the inheritance which we rightfully deserve. I am glad to say that the majority of our friends have chosen to be on the active side rather than simply staying in the safety of their dwellings abroad, They have raised their voices, they come here, and support us from far and from near, fearlessly and continuously. It is well understood that there is no inheritance abroad if there is no inheritance in Israel. We will continue our fight together, we will build here, we will change things, and we shall show that even when tribes of the same People are very different, they remain one People, who can live here and there respectfully together, will share responsibilities for an overall success wherever we may go.
Shabbat Shalom and best wishes for a Chodesh Tov.
Reuven Marko, 28 Tamuz 5777, 21 July 2017