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The greater good and reaching the Promised Lane

07/31/2019 11:08:26 AM

Jul31

By Rabbi Allison Berry

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner was preparing for a hike in the mountains of Montana when he noticed signs warning about bears. He peppered the National Park Service employee with questions about which trails might be bear-free. Eventually, he got this response: “If I could tell you for sure there wouldn’t be any bears, it wouldn’t be a wilderness now, would it?”1
Unlike Rabbi Kushner, the ancient Israelites were familiar with the unpredictable and often unforgiving wilderness. By the time we reach the Torah portion, Matot-Maasei at the end of the book of Numbers, for close to 40 years, our people had battled hail, snakes, starvation, discord and sometimes the silence that can only be found in harsh and remote places. And yet, they continued to have faith that God would guide them to the Promised Land.

It is at this point commentators ask the most natural question: Why do the Israelites continue to believe in God? We find an answer in this portion: The Israelite tribes of Reuben and Gad go before Moses and ask permission to settle outside the land of Israel. At first, Moses sees this as a threat to the vision of a united people building a nation in a new land. He fears this will tear the community apart. And yet, the conversation does not end there. The tribes of Reuben and Gad also promise to fight beside the other tribes in the conquest of the land. Only after will they return to their families. From this, Moses realizes that something remarkable has happened. After a generation of slavery, of wandering and of shared struggle – at long last, the Israelites understand that what matters most is community. Reuven and Gad will not allow the other tribes to go it alone. They can see beyond themselves.

Rabbi Kushner writes: “Without the wilderness, there can be neither reverence nor revelation.”2 Another wise rabbi, Lisa Grushcow adds: “Without the wilderness, there can be no relationship.” Ultimately, our wanderings in the wilderness can lead us to see what is most important: community, family and the bonds of love that inspire us to work for the greater good. And it is only when we see clearly that we can reach the Promised Land.

1. Lawrence Kushner, Invisible Lines of Connection [Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights 1996], p.19)

2. Ibid.

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner was preparing for a hike in the mountains of Montana when he noticed signs warning about bears. He peppered the National Park Service employee with questions about which trails might be bear-free. Eventually, he got this response: “If I could tell you for sure there wouldn’t be any bears, it wouldn’t be a wilderness now, would it?”1
Unlike Rabbi Kushner, the ancient Israelites were familiar with the unpredictable and often unforgiving wilderness. By the time we reach the Torah portion, Matot-Maasei at the end of the book of Numbers, for close to 40 years, our people had battled hail, snakes, starvation, discord and sometimes the silence that can only be found in harsh and remote places. And yet, they continued to have faith that God would guide them to the Promised Land.

It is at this point commentators ask the most natural question: Why do the Israelites continue to believe in God? We find an answer in this portion: The Israelite tribes of Reuben and Gad go before Moses and ask permission to settle outside the land of Israel. At first, Moses sees this as a threat to the vision of a united people building a nation in a new land. He fears this will tear the community apart. And yet, the conversation does not end there. The tribes of Reuben and Gad also promise to fight beside the other tribes in the conquest of the land. Only after will they return to their families. From this, Moses realizes that something remarkable has happened. After a generation of slavery, of wandering and of shared struggle – at long last, the Israelites understand that what matters most is community. Reuven and Gad will not allow the other tribes to go it alone. They can see beyond themselves.

Rabbi Kushner writes: “Without the wilderness, there can be neither reverence nor revelation.”2 Another wise rabbi, Lisa Grushcow adds: “Without the wilderness, there can be no relationship.” Ultimately, our wanderings in the wilderness can lead us to see what is most important: community, family and the bonds of love that inspire us to work for the greater good. And it is only when we see clearly that we can reach the Promised Land.

1. Lawrence Kushner, Invisible Lines of Connection [Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights 1996], p.19)

2. Ibid.

Wed, November 13 2019 15 Cheshvan 5780