Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Caring for the Caretaker

Parshat Matot/Masei
28 Tammuz / July 10
Numbers Chapter 30:2 - 36:13

As the Jewish people are nearing the end of their 40-year desert journey, the Parasha reports two seemingly unrelated stories. The first is a continuation from the preceding portion. Moshe tells the Israelites to avenge themselves against the Midianites because the Midianite women enticed the Jewish people to worship another god. The act of killing the Midianite people is supposed to re-establish the national faith in the, “one true G-d.” And indeed, this is what occurs, though many people, both Israelites and Midianites were killed.
Following this story, we read about the 2.5 Israelite tribes (Reuven, Gad, and half of Menasha) who request to stay on the East side of the Jordan where the nation is currently camped. They do not want to go into the Promised Land! Since they have a lot of cattle, and that the land on they are in now is great for grazing, they reason that they should acquire this land. Moshe becomes worried that their request would spark another revolt of people not wanting to go into Israel (similar to the story about the 10 spies that were sent to scout the land). The tribes that are making this request assure Moshe that the men will join the rest of the nation on the other side of the Jordan to help conquer the land. Moshe is placated by this and allows them to settle in the land that would support their cattle grazing.

I focused in on finding meaning in these stories because of a word play that exists in the Hebrew for “vengeance” and “cattle.” The word for vengeance is NeKaMa. The word for cattle is MiKNeh. The Hebrew letters are basically the same just in a different order. When I noticed this, I became curious between the connection between vengeance and cattle – What do these words have in common??

Thanks to Kelly and Kevin, this is what I learned. Both stories are about a group of people that veer away from their caretaker. The Israelites leave G-d for a foreign god. The 2.5 tribes leave Moshe and the rest of their community. The first story is a disaster, while the second story works out great. The difference seems to be in the approach that the group had toward the change they were making and the care and appreciation that they showed for their original caretaker. The 2.5 tribes gently, but firmly, state their request to Moshe. They work with Moshe through his fears about the change, about the abandonment that he will face. They transition from the cared-for to the caretakers. They claim the maturity to decide when their journey will end. In contrast, in the first story, there is a complete disregard for G-d – they leave G-d in a flash like a Band-Aid being ripped off a wound.

A good example of how this lesson from the Torah might be relevant for our lives is if we consider our relationship with the people who have raised us. Our parents and caretakers have instilled within us certain values which have directed our life. As we move into our own adult lives, we consider these values, though do not always follow them.

The Parasha suggests that we can share these conflicting choices with our parents and caretakers in a way that still shows them respect and appreciation for the guidance that they have given thus far. We can let them know that living our own paths does not equal a severing, or abandonment, of our relationship with them.

Shabbat Shalom!
-- Zvi, Kevin, and Kellyn MHHQ


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