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Matot 5779. Empathy and Unity

When the Tribes of Reuven and Gad request to settle in the TransJordan, Moses is incensed. He levels two accusations:

1. Shall your brothers go to war, and you stay here?" 2. Your reticence to enter will discourage and demoralize the nation from embarking upon the conquest of Canaan.

  • The first argument is moral.

  • The second argument is pragmatic.

The second is concerned that the decision of Gad and Reuven is likely to ruin national morale thereby sabotaging the collective entry to the promised land.

But what of the first? Moses is establishing a fundamental rule of Jewish unity; that no Jew may remain passive, placid, unconcerned, apathetic, when another sector of the Jewish people is in distress.

Rav Soloveitchik expresses it in the following manner:

"‎A feeling of empathy is a basic fact in the consciousness of shared Jewish fate. The suffering of one ‎segment of the nation is the lot of the entire community. The scattered and separated people ‎mourns and is consoled together.

... When there is a sick person in one’s house, one prays not only for that ‎person but for "all the sick of Israel." When one enters the house of a mourner to comfort him and ‎to wipe the tear from the bereaved’s sad face, he directs his words of condolence to “all the ‎mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” The slightest disturbance in the state of an individual or a sector ‎of the people should trouble all segments of the nation throughout their dispersion.

...One of the great preachers of the last generation put it well when he likened the people of Israel ‎to the two-headed son about whom it was asked in the Talmud whether he would, as a dual-‎personality, take two shares of his familial inheritance or only one portion... Let them pour boiling water on the ‎head of the one, said the Rabbi, and let us see the other’s reaction. If the other screams in pain, ‎then the two comprise one personality, and they shall receive one share of the inheritance. ‎However, if the second does not feel the suffering of the first, then they are two individuals ‎enfolded in one body, and they shall receive two shares of the estate.‎

If boiling water is poured on the head of a Moroccan ‎Jew, the Jew in Paris or London must scream, and by feeling the pain, shows ‎himself loyal to the nation. The breakup of the people and the constriction of its self-image are the ‎result of a lack of empathy.‎" (Kol Dodi Dofek)

Please Discuss

  • Are we, as a Jewish people, successful in feeling the pain of one-another?

  • Do we stand together?

  • Do you recall a moment in which you felt global Jewish unity? Was it in a moment of joy, normal life, or a time of pain and tragedy?

Today, people speak about fractures in the Jewish world: Israel-Diaspora, Orthodox-non-Orthodox, Haredim and Secular. It is interesting that the Tribes of Gad and Reuven were aware of the dangers of physical distance, and the threat of delegitimization.

In Joshua ch.22, Reuven and Gad express their fears that they might be rejected by their brothers across the river Jordan:

... in time to come, your children might say to our children, ‘What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? The Lord has made the Jordan a border between you and us; Reuven and Gad - you have no share in the Lord!’

And in the book of Judges, the prophetess Deborah rebukes Reuven for failing to cross the Jordan river and assist Israel when it had been attacked by the enemy:

Among the clans of Reuben there was great deliberations [whether to go to war]. Why did you sit still among the sheepfolds, to hear the bleating of the flocks? (Judges 5:15-16)

Please discuss

  • Why do we sometimes turn our backs on fellow Jews? IS it physical distance, or ... what?

  • What might we do to close the divisions within us?

Shabbat Shalom!

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