Homeland: Matot-Masei 2016

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: To what extent is your connection to the state of Israel based on the biblical promises made in the Torah? Do you see Israel today as a fulfillment (complete or partial) of those promises? Or do you mainly see Israel as a place that attempts to be a safeguard for all Jews?

As the book of Numbers hurries to a close, the peoples’ conquest of the Promised Land is imminent – and the urgency is reflected in God’s commandments to the ancient Israelites:

The Pitch: “Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, you shall dispossess all the inhabitants of the land; you shall destroy all their figured objects; you shall destroy all their molten images, and you shall demolish all their cult places. And you shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have assigned the land to you to possess.” (Numbers 33:51-53)

Swing #1: “We have been commanded in the Torah to take possession of the land which the Lord, blessed be He, granted to our forefathers … and not to leave it in the hands of others or allow it to remain desolate … a proof that this is a special mitzvah can be adduced from the Almighty’s order to the spies, ‘Go up and possess it, as the Lord has spoken to you, fear not and be not dismayed’ (Deuteronomy 1:21). And when they refused to go up, it is written, ‘And you rebelled against the word of the Lord …’ This indicates that we are dealing with a specific precept and not merely a promise.” – Nahmanides

Swing #2: “The main purpose of occupying Canaan was to lead a holy life there and to preserve the sanctity of the land by keeping the Torah and its commandments. Without the Torah the Land of Israel is no more important than any other.” – Ma’yanah Shel Torah

Swing #3: “The need for God to declare war leads to the conclusion that there is no teaching on just war in Numbers. Israel is a theocracy in the wilderness throughout the book. All war in Numbers is waged through the sanctuary. … The book of Numbers does not present a single teaching on war, but all of its different writers agree that evaluation of and participation in war are responsibilities of the sanctuary, not of the state.” – The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 2

Late-Inning Questions: Our commentaries reflect the biblical consensus that the conquest and security of the land of Israel is a holy mission of the highest order. To what extent are you willing to go to protect the modern state of Israel? What are the best ways for us, living in the Diaspora, to do so? How has the challenge of protecting the state of Israel changed in the last generation? Do the words of this week’s Torah portion make you any more or less motivated to stand up for Israel?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: I’m pleased to announce the kickoff to our 2016-2017 Adult Education program. It’s called “Or Hadash: Prayer in a New Light”, and will feature a familiar face for us: Hebrew College Cantorial and Jewish Education student Dara Rosenblatt. Join us for services Friday, August 26th, at 8:15PM services, and then on Saturday, August 27th (9:00AM Danish & D’rash, 9:30AM services). Dara will unfold the mysteries of key passages of our prayer book, as we begin a yearlong exploration of the meaning of prayer. Dara will lead Danish & D’rash as well as an alternative learner’s service during the first part of our Saturday morning prayers, followed by a brief discussion at Kiddush.

The Big Inning at the End: Like many of you, I enjoy watching the Olympic Games, which begin tonight in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. However, in recent years, I’ve been disappointed that baseball is no longer an Olympic sport. One of the first baseball games I ever attended was a match between Canada and the Dominican Republic at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympics. There’s no doubt that sports like soccer and basketball are more popular worldwide, but surely the best baseball players should have an opportunity to go for the gold.

Shabbat Shalom!