Mattot-Mase'ei - weekly Torah portion
Moses is furious when the representatives of the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad approach him and suggest, “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.” He responds angrily, in surprise and in shock, “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?” They quickly regroup and respond, “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.” In other words they proclaim that they will share the responsibility regarding the possession of the land but after that they will return to their homes which happen to be outside of the Promised Land. The boarder of this land is also defined in this portion of the Torah (actually two portions) stating the eastern border is “the border shall go down and reach to the slope on the east side of the Sea of Chinnereth. And the border shall go down to the Jordan and its termination shall be at the Salt Sea.” This means that it is clear that the two and a half tribes are living outside of Israel, they are living abroad, they do have a mutual responsibility to the Promised Land but do not all have to live there.
View from Mount Nevo on the Land of Israel.
We therefore learn that Moses, even in those very early years of the national formation, had national challenges and the need to address the tensions resulting therefrom. These tensions have existed for millennia, also referred to many times as the Israel-Babylon tension. It may have many different faces. Tensions between Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews, between western European Jews to those who lived in the east, Republican and Democrat Jews in the USA, Haredi and Secular Jews, and so many more. This tension is a direct result of a complex reality and in itself is not necessarily bad. The question is, especially in these days between the 17th of Tamuz and the 9th of Av, is how to channel this built-in tension into a positive outcome, an action that builds, that closes upon gaps. The damages of rifts among our People we have already experienced several times before in history. Many times as a result of the action of outsiders, but, in some cases, also from the very inside. For this we have sorrow in our hearts in these particular days of the year for which one may fast.
It is alarming therefore that the Government of Israel has found it appropriate in these very days to push forward the “Nation State” or “Nationality” law, at least at the time these words are written. This law does not really promote any kind of nationality especially as this is quite well defined already in the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel that clearly denotes this land as the Home of the Jews. This part of our national struggle for our very own homeland has been accomplished a long time ago. The State of Israel is alive and kicking, it is in no doubt the Homeland of the Jews, whether they choose to live here or not, and is certainly on the road to become the largest Jewish community in the world not before long. Therefore it has no need to act in this way that reduces the connection of a minority living amongst us to the land. It is unnecessary to have a law that makes Hebrew the only official language of the land depriving a significant minority of access in their own language, Arabic, to be used when dealing with the government.
However this is not even the worst part of this unnecessary law which also tries to establish, in primary law, the right to exclude people from joining settlements based on nationality and religion. Rabbi Kariv, the Movement’s President and CEO noted in a letter to our members that this can prevent access on “any other basis: sexual preference, heritage, education, political stand, etc.” We surely know where this begins and no amount of words will convince that this is not the intent of the law. The intent of these law makers is clear, they know exactly where this all begins and they ought to know exactly where it is going to lead us to. In addition, Rabbi Kariv notes, that this legislation states that “…“… the state of Israel will work in the diaspora to preserve the bond between the state and the children of the Jewish people.” The parties of the coalition are falling prey to the Haredi parties demands and as a result, “prevent the possibility that there will be any attempt to put in a law in the future that states that Israel should take into account the necessity of preserving the connection between Israel and the Jewish people.” No wonder that these have led to “President’s Rivilin unprecedented call to the Knesset not to continue with this law in its present wording.”
We shall fight against this law. Those who live outside of Israel, Just like the sons of Reuven and the sons of Gad, have the responsibility and obligation to fight this unjust piece of legislation. We call upon those who can, to participate at a demonstration that will take place the the Rabin Square in Tel Aviv this Motsei Shabbat, after a Havdalah service which will be conducted there. We will fight for a state where the Jewish leg is not lesser than its Democratic leg, and vice versa, side by side, with equal rights to all.
Reuven Marko, 13 July 2018, 2 Av, 5778