Torah Portion: Mattot/Mas’ei
Book of Numbers
August 5, 2016
Would you be surprised to learn that while 79% of Orthodox Jewish youth feel connected to the State of Israel, only 16% of non-Orthodox Jewish peers do? If you are not concerned, you probably should be!
The conclusion of the Book of Numbers reports the end of the Israelites 40 years of desert wandering. They have arrived at the doorstep of the Promised Land. As the 12 tribes prepare for the challenges of conquering and acquiring this land, two of the tribes (Reuben and Gad) petition Moses to allow them to settle outside the Land. Pinhas Peli notes, “The reason for this unexpected request lies in the fact which is told at the beginning of the story-that “the children of Reuben and the children of Gad had a great multitude of cattle” (Num. 32:1). They had too much wealth invested in the country in which they lived now. They were too well-to-do to make aliya (move into the Land) seriously.” Moses responds, “Shall your brothers [and sisters] go to the war and you shall sit here?” (Num. 32:6)
In the end, the tribes of Reuben and Gad agreed to join their fellow Israelites in settling the new land. Only then would they return to their homes outside the Land. Moses understood then what we know now; the relationship of the Land of Israel to the Jewish people is symbiotic. Reuben and Gad might not choose to actually live in the Land, but they still bore a responsibility to maintain and secure the Land for generations to come.
When the modern State of Israel was declared in 1948, only a small percentage of Jews living in North America chose to make aliya to the Jewish state. Most of the Jews in the United States and Canada were unwilling to give up their current lifestyle to become pioneers in a developing country. Yet, they understood the integral bond connecting them to Israel. Through financial contributions and political support, the North American Jew bore his/her responsibility to “maintain and secure” the Land of Israel. Why, then, 68 years later has the importance of the State of Israel dropped off the radar for 84% of non-Orthodox Jewish youth?
Could it be, unlike our Orthodox co-religionists, the parents of these youth see Israel as just another political entity in the world of nations? Or, could it be they no longer understand, or worse, never learned the critical relationship of the Land to the People?
I stand with Medinat Yisrael-the State of Israel-neither because she is the only democracy in the Middle East nor because I march in lock step with her government. I stand with Israel because for thousands of years my ancestors’ faith was kept alive by the dream of one day returning to the Land. Now that we finally returned the strength of my faith, and that of my people, is kept alive by the presence of the State of Israel. I bear a responsibility to my children and children’s children to “maintain and secure” Israel for generations yet unborn.
Rabbi Howard Siegel