Thursday, July 17, 2014

Parashat Mattot- Zionism in the Diaspora

Vayomru im matza’nu chein b’einekha yutan et-ha’aretz hazot la’avadekha la’achuzah, al ta’avireinu et haYardein.
Va’anachnu neichaleitz chushim lifnei b’nei Yisrael ad asher im-havi’onum el-m’komot v’yashav tapeinu b’arei hamivtzar mopnei yoshvei ha’aretz. Lo nashuv el-bateinu ad hitnacheil b’nei Yisrael ish nachlato.
And they said, “If we have found favour in your eyes, let this land be given to your servants as an inheritance; do not bring us across the Jordan.” (B’midbar 32:5)
We will arm ourselves swiftly before the children of Israel until we will bring them into their place, and the will settle in the fortified cities in the face of the inhabitants of the land. We will not return to our houses until the children of Israel have inherited, each man his inheritance. (B’midbar 32:17-18)
Anyone who has studied with me, even for a short time, knows that I teach interpretation of Torah through personal perspective. Our understanding of Torah at age 15 is different than our understanding at age 30, age 62, or age 97. It is different when we are single or married, without children, parents of young children, or empty nesters. It is different depending on our geography. Therefore it will not be a surprise that, having just returned from Israel, as I write this, my mind’s eye is still there.
At the end of Mattot, the tribes of Reuven, of Gad, and part of Manasseh choose the land on which they stand, rather than their portion on the western side of the Yarden. For personal, familial and economic reasons, they choose not to settle across the Jordan. Yet, they are no less connected to the land, its protection and defense.
Those of us who choose to live outside Israel live in much the same way. Our support for Israel, the land and the state is unwavering, our desire to walk upon its soil no less strong. However, in order to maintain this, we must also maintain a physical connection to the land. It’s not enough to desire the land. It’s not enough to support Israel financially and through rallies and speech. We must walk the land. We must bring our children into it.
Three weeks ago, we began our trip to Israel jet-lagged and in a heat wave (even for Israel in July). Unbearably hot and exhausted, our daughter was not impressed with our first day. She missed our cats and our air conditioning. She wanted to go home. Fast forward two weeks- she said this to me, “Eema, I don’t want to leave. I want to bring the cats, and Camp Ramah, and my friends here, but I don’t want to leave.” What began as a foreign, if beloved from afar, land became home. What changed? Sleep was good. Adjusting to the heat helped. But primarily, it was walking the land, experiencing our history, hearing Hebrew, and living, even if only for a few weeks, in a Jewish land.

Our first Shabbat I had a fascinating discussion about Zionism. Yehoshua, a neighbour, made the point that Israelis view the rest of us in Galut, Exile, whereas Jews outside Israel generally see themselves in the Diaspora. When reading parashat Mattot, this thought immediately returned to me. We are the children of Reuven, of Gad, and of Manasseh. We have made our homes in the place that is right for the moment, our chosen Diaspora. Still, our homeland, our inheritance, and our future remain the land of our ancestors, the land of Israel.