Mattot and Masei
For the week of July 26, 2003 / 26 Tammuz 5763
Torah: Bemidbar / Numbers 30:2 - 36:13
Haftarah: Jeremiah 2:4-28, 3:4
Originally published July 29, 2000 / 26 Tammuz 5760

Communal Responsibility

We will not return to our homes until every Israelite has received his inheritance (Bemidbar / Numbers 32:18)

This week's Torah portion includes an incident that illustrates how diversity can exist in a close-knit community.

Two of the twelve tribes of Israel approached Moses to request their settling the land east of the Jordan rather than on the west side along with the other tribes. Moses' initial reaction was negative, as he vividly remembered the last time the people didn't want to enter the land and the consequences it had for everyone. He took their request as a sign of unfaithfulness to God and that it would discourage the rest of the nation.

But that was not what this was about. These two tribes just wanted to settle that part of the land. They believed that this was what God had for them. They didn't feel that they all had to be together on the other side of the river to exist as a single nation. They were content to be different.

We tend to confuse community support with long term togetherness. But all the tribes didn't have to permanently reside in the exact same place to demonstrate their support of each other.

The two tribes didn't over react to Moses' violent reaction. They didn't get defensive. They simply explained their position and pledged their support. I wonder how much better our communities would be if those who saw things differently from the norm would also do everything they could to support and benefit the larger group. So often innovators don't care about others who don't see things their way and create all sorts of messy situations.

What probably made the greatest difference in this situation was that the two tribes fully grasped the meaning of communal responsibility. If they would have narrowly focused on their own needs and desires, they would have undermined the long-term stability of their entire nation. But because they saw themselves as just one part of the larger community, the entire nation could enjoy the richness of the whole land.

How much stronger our communities would be if we would follow the two tribes' example! Whatever kind of community we are part of, if we could balance our own desires with the need to support the larger community, then everyone would benefit. Otherwise we all lose.

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