This week we finish up the book of Numbers with the double portion of Mattot-Matei. The Israelites are on the verge of being led by Joshua into the promised land. Moshe Rabbeinu is getting ready to leave the physical plane. Preparations are being made for colonization.
One of the issues that Moses needs to address is the request by the tribes of Reuben and Gad. They passed through the east side of the Jordan River before undertaking settling the promised land and saw land that is ideally suited for animal grazing. They requested of Moses that be allowed to settle there to take advantage of those conditions.
Moses set down a few conditions. First of all, he thought it might be a good idea to have an additional tribe settle there since there was perhaps too much land for just two tribes. Two of the clans of Manasseh accepted his offer. Second, they can settle there on condition that they send warriors to help the rest of the Israelites conquer the land.
In various places in the Torah, there are commandments to help each other. These range from loving your neighbor as yourself to helping someone with a stranded animal get back on the road to financial assistance to someone down on their luck and the widows, orphans and proselytes that are challenged to support themselves. With this in mind, the tribes gladly offered to send men to help the effort.
We are a community. We are mandated to help each other. As the song goes, no person is an island, no one stands alone. This is Judaism.
In the flow of our Holy Scriptures, after the Torah, we have the book of Joshua and then Judges. After Joshua died, there was no national leader. This presented a problem as the tribes had settled into their new home and their focus and therefore their loyalty was to their clans and their tribes. Surrounding peoples saw this and the Israelites were vulnerable.
During times of aggression then, there would arise a Judge, part prophet and part warrior to gather the fractured tribes together and lead them to successful military campaigns and ward off attacks by foreign aggressors. After the period of the Judges came the Kings as the national leader. The first three kings were more or less able to lead the people, but with the death of Solomon, the tribes once again became fractured as the Kingdom split in two. The Northern Kingdom, not following Torah was ultimately conquered and those tribes captured and led into oblivion.
Divide and conquer.
Today there is still some fracturing going on. Religiously, we have the fundamentalists (Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox) who feel that other Jews aren’t as observant and thus not honoring the covenant and cleaving to Torah. On the other side of the scale are the liberal progressives that feel that’s too much and separates them from their mother country.
Politically many issues center around Israel. There is talk that some American Jews don’t support Israel and even some that agree with such efforts as the BDS campaign and denigrate Israel as oppressive. At the other end of that scale are those that believe that Israel should be a true Jewish state run by Torah and no non-Jews in positions of prominence.
Once again, fractured. And we know throughout history what happens when our people become fractured. As all of this is going on, antisemitism is rearing its ugly head and incidents are on the rise.
We’re a people. While there are those that support our cause, we have to look after each other. We have to respect each other’s opinions and points of view and understand that united we stand, divided we fall.
Hashem has commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves. We don’t have to like, but we really should love. And respect.