Matot-Masei, Numbers 30:2-36:13, Parshat Hashavua for Shabbat, July 30, 2022

We are now in the three weeks leading up to Tisha b’Av, the fast of the Tenth of Av, that memorializes the destruction of the First and Second Temples. This time period is considered the lowest point in the Jewish calendar. It is the spiritual and emotional nadir of the religious year. 

Our sages taught that the Temple was destroyed because of groundless hatred of Jew against Jew. (Yoma 9b) Whether this is historically accurate or not doesn’t matter. The spiritual lesson our sages were teaching was that we share common values and a common fate with our fellow Jews (or our fellow Americans). When we hate them, we destroy what is most precious. 

We live in a time when hatred for others is rampant, when disagreements over politics or religious practice bleed over into anger, disrespect, contempt and hatred. Our sages teach us that this is how societies tear themselves apart. 

This week’s Torah portion offers a different example. The tribes of Gad and Reuben do not want to enter the Land of Israel. They wish to remain on the east side of the Jordan, which they see as good land for their herds. In exchange they agree to be shock troops. To fight in the front of the Israelites as they conquer the Land of Israel. Moses and God agree to this arrangement. 

If the Temple was destroyed through hatred of Jew against Jew, the example of Gad and Reuben remind of the rabbinic dictum, “All Israel is responsible, one for the other.” (Shevuot 39a) We should keep this in mind as we reflect on our relationship with the State of Israel, or other Jewish groups, or our fellow Americans with whom we disagree. How can we work together, what can we give of ourselves, to build a better society and a stronger Jewish community?