Politics & Parsha: “Shul Politics Like Never Before”
Each week IPA Deputy Director of Public Policy Howie Beigelman takes a look at the weekly parsha and discusses it in a way you may never have seen. Any hashkafic, halachic or political opinions are personal and do not reflect the official psak or policy of the OU.
Matot 5771: Room With a View
“People want to run away from where they are, to go find their Jerusalem – as if elsewhere they will find perfection. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing there, make that a Jerusalem.”
— Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l
All in all, it was a pretty steep price for some real estate with a river view.
Thinking it a sequel to the spies & their treachery, Moses reacts angrily – and warily. Two of the tribes, plus a portion of a third, have approached with an unexpected request as G-d delineates the inheritance of the Land: they’ve got large flocks and the land east of the Jordan River – what was then Midian and is now the Hashemite Kingdom – looked too good to pass up.
But No! respond the two and a half tribes to Moses accusations: we love Israel and we love our people. Moses and they swear these tribes will serve as the vanguard during Joshua’s conquest and will not settle their lands until all their brothers are secure in theirs. It was to be a promise several years in the keeping. Infants and toddlers born now would be grown when then returned; teenagers would be full grown adults. The men were committing to miss their children’s childhoods – and not only the diaper changes and late night feedings, but the first day of school and the little league championships, bar and bat mitzvahs and more. Perhaps even their child’s wedding and the birth of grandchildren.
These tribes were, in effect, the first (and possibly only – at least till modern times) Diaspora of choice (true, G-d does grant Transjordan a status equal to Canaan in holiness, but that was after Joshua’s conquest. They didn’t know this yet.)
And Moses challenge to them and their acceptance of his terms – and he of theirs – sets the standard for how a global community interacts.
Each disparate and separate community must act in its own personal interests, but it must also act with brother communities in mind. Jewish communities around the world act and people think of the State of Israel. And sometimes, communities – or individuals – in the Diaspora bear a burden for Israeli actions or policies.
Of course it works the opposite way too. The Diaspora can play a role in building & safeguarding the homeland. And as the world witnessed 35 years ago, Israel’s arm has grown long indeed. Long enough – and strong enough – to fly across the world into a hostile country to kill terrorists and rescue Jews held hostage.
That is the partnership Moses & the two & a half tribes forged. Its the lesson of Matot for generations. Each community is allowed its own independence. Another community can’t come in and tell the other how to act, even when its so clear they are making a mistake. They can, perhaps even should, offer advice, but in the end, its their future – and their lives – on the line.
As well, each community must always act in its own interests. But a mature community also takes into account how its actions – or inaction – affect others. It doesn’t mean it can’t, or won’t, act as it deems best; it does mean though it has weighed that action against repercussions to brother and sister communities around the world.
This is true in politics – and its true back home as well. Parents and peers must let loved ones make their own mistakes sometimes. And people – as individuals – must always do what is best for themselves. But they must always keep in mind the pain and problems they may cause others.
That interplay between communities and individuals and their neighbors, cousins and counterparts down the block or a world away is the lesson of Matot.
Words to consider, ideas to ponder — politics & the parsha.