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The Iran Deal and Diaspora-Israel Relations

July 20, 2015

Good Shabbos.  I’d like to thank Presidents Obama and Rouhani for answering a question that I’ve been struggling with for quite some time: what am I going to speak about in first Drasha as the Rabbi of Netivot?  And while conventional wisdom may advise a new rabbi against speaking about politics – especially contentious and potentially divisive issues – to not speak about it is not a choice.

While we have all seen the headlines and many of us may have reached our own conclusions about the deal, or whether anything can be done to prevent its ratification at this point, it is crucial to keep one point in mind.  Whether we like the deal or don’t like the deal, for our brothers and sisters in Israel the signing of this deal, and with it the strengthening of Iran, presents an existential threat to the State of Israel.  Not only has Israel’s sworn enemy been assured of access to weapons, easing of sanctions and the promise of many new economic opportunities, the government and the people of Israel feel abandoned by the rest of the world, her supposed allies.

How are we to react?  What is our responsibility as Jews living in Baltimore.

This question is addressed head on in this morning’s Torah reading.  In it we have the request of the tribes of Gad and Reuven to remain on the eastern bank of the Jordan River, as it was ideal pastureland:

במדבר פרשת מטות פרק לב וּמִקְנֶה רַב הָיָה לִבְנֵי רְאוּבֵן וְלִבְנֵי־גָד עָצוּם מְאֹד וַיִּרְאוּ אֶת־אֶרֶץ יַעְזֵר וְאֶת־אֶרֶץ גִּלְעָד וְהִנֵּה הַמָּקוֹם מְקוֹם מִקְנֶה: וַיָּבֹאוּ בְנֵי־גָד וּבְנֵי רְאוּבֵן וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֶל־מֹשֶׁה וְאֶל־אֶלְעָזָר הַכֹּהֵן וְאֶל־נְשִׂיאֵי הָעֵדָה לֵאמֹר:  עֲטָרוֹת וְדִיבֹן וְיַעְזֵר וְנִמְרָה וְחֶשְׁבּוֹן וְאֶלְעָלֵה וּשְׂבָם וּנְבוֹ וּבְעֹן: הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר הִכָּה יְקֹוָק לִפְנֵי עֲדַת יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶרֶץ מִקְנֶה הִוא וְלַעֲבָדֶיךָ מִקְנֶה: ס וַיֹּאמְרוּ אִם־מָצָאנוּ חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ יֻתַּן אֶת־הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת לַעֲבָדֶיךָ לַאֲחֻזָּה אַל־תַּעֲבִרֵנוּ אֶת־הַיַּרְדֵּן:

Now the children of Reuben and the children of Gad had a very great multitude of cattle and when they saw the land of Jazer, and the land of Gilead, that, behold, the place was a place for cattle, the children of Gad and the children of Reuben came and spoke unto Moses, and to Eleazar the priest, and unto the princes of the congregation, saying: ‘Ataroth, and Dibon, and Jazer, and Nimrah, and Heshbon, and Elealeh, and Sebam, and Nebo, and Beon, the land which HaShem smote before the congregation of Israel, is a land for cattle, and thy servants have cattle.’ And they said: ‘If we have found favour in thy sight, let this land be given unto thy servants for a possession; bring us not over the Jordan.’

Moshe, to say the least is not pleased:

במדבר פרשת מטות פרק לב וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה לִבְנֵי־גָד וְלִבְנֵי רְאוּבֵן הַאַחֵיכֶם יָבֹאוּ לַמִּלְחָמָה וְאַתֶּם תֵּשְׁבוּ פֹה: וְלָמָּה תנואון תְנִיאוּן אֶת־לֵב בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵעֲבֹר אֶל־הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר־נָתַן לָהֶם יְקֹוָק:

And Moses said unto the children of Gad and to the children of Reuben: ‘Shall your brethren go to the war, and shall ye sit here? And wherefore will ye turn away the heart of the children of Israel from going over into the land which HaShem hath given them?

However, after his initial anger, they reach a compromise, proposed by Gad and Reuven.  The two tribes can settle on the eastern bank, outside of Eretz Yisrael proper, as long as they lead the way into battle to conquer the land.  Moshe agrees but adds that a part of the tribe of Menashe will also live with them.

The commentators are troubled.  Why does Moshe so readily agree to this compromise after lashing out so harshly?  The Abravanel suggests that the entire exchange was actually a misunderstanding:

אברבנאל במדבר פרשת מטות פרק לב ורצו לומר לו שחוץ ממעלת תורתו לא הבין כונתם …והיה הענין כאן שאמרו לו אין אנחנו רוצים לשבת פה מעתה אבל גדרות צאן נבנה למקננו פה וערים לטפנו ואנחנו נחלץ חושים

“The children of Gad and Reuven … wished to tell Moshe that despite his great wisdom he had misunderstood their intention… Out of respect for him they approached him to tell him quietly, ‘Our master, you have not understood our words and our intention… We do not wish to settle here immediately; rather, we shall pass over armed… and go to war with our brethren.'”

Rabbi Yitzchak Arama, author of the עקדת יצחק offers an entirely different understanding.

עקידת יצחק במדבר שער פה (פרשת מטות) . ומהנראה שכאשר חשב להם כן היה בלבם כי מתחלה לא היה דעתם לעבור עמהם למלחמה.

Moshe had accurately figured their intentions.  The two tribes must now, on the spot, do what they can to save face with Moshe and the rest of the Jews.  They agree to lead the nation into battle out of a sense of guilt.

Interestingly, the story does not end here.  At the end of Sefer Yehoshua, once the land has been conquered and divided among b’nei Yisrael, Yehoshua turns to the tribes of Gad and Reuven reminds them to follow the Torah and blesses them as they go on their way.  In the very next set of pesukim, we read the that the rest of the nation is prepared to go to battle with the 2 ½ tribes.  The reason is that the tribes had built an altar which the nation saw as an act of rebellion against Hashem.

Gad and Reuven answer that the nation is mistaken.  They assure them that they have no intention of offering sacrifices on the altar or otherwise violating Hashem’s commandments.  Rather, they are concerned that future generations will interpret the distance between them and the rest of b’nei Yisrael as a sign that the 2 ½ tribes have no part in Hashem or in Yidishkeit.

יהושע פרק כב כז) כִּי עֵד הוּא בֵּינֵינוּ וּבֵינֵיכֶם וּבֵין דֹּרוֹתֵינוּ אַחֲרֵינוּ לַעֲבֹד אֶת־עֲבֹדַת יְקֹוָק לְפָנָיו בְּעֹלוֹתֵינוּ וּבִזְבָחֵינוּ וּבִשְׁלָמֵינוּ וְלֹא־יֹאמְרוּ בְנֵיכֶם מָחָר לְבָנֵינוּ אֵין־לָכֶם חֵלֶק בַּיקֹוָק:

but it shall be a witness between us and you, and between our generations after us, that we may do the service of HaShem before Him with our burnt-offerings, and with our sacrifices, and with our peace-offerings; that your children may not say to our children in time to come: Ye have no portion in HaShem.

There are several takeaways for us.

  1. As Jews living in the Diaspora, who are committed to Israel, we must be at the forefront of efforts of advocacy and support.  Just as בני גד וראובן led the nation in battle, we must take active steps in advocating for Israel and supporting Israel in ways that make sense for us.  This may include political activism, financial support, reaching out to friends and family living in Israel, davening, etc.
  2. This is certainly true in times of crisis, but as we learn from Sefer Yehoshua, living outside of Israel demands that we ensure ourselves and our future generations remain connected to the land and people of Israel in quiet times as well.
  3. As I get to know the Netivot community, I look forward to finding ways that we as a community can express our love and support for Israel.

Good Shabbos.

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