Parshat Mattot/Massei: Numbers 30:2-36:13; Jeremiah 2:4-28, 3:4.
As the Israelites move closer to conquering the land of Canaan and the land is divided between the 12 tribes of Israel, two of the tribes, Reuven and Gad, ask Moses for permission to settle outside of the land of Israel opposite the Jordan River.
Moses considers the request, questioning how the leaders of Reuven and Gad could go against the commitment made by the previous generation to unite as one people. The tribal leaders of Reuven and Gad respond that while they may build cities for their families and farmland for their animals, they would continue to battle alongside the other Israelite tribes in the conquest of Canaan, the land Jewish tradition teaches was promised to the people of Israel. The tribes of Reuven and Gad would uphold their commitment to be part of one people.
Moses agrees the tribes can remain on the east bank of the Jordan, but they are required to be in relationship with their fellow Israelites.
Much of my understanding and commitment to Israel stems from my relationship with Israelis. As a Jewish educator, I’ve developed relationships with Israeli educators working across the spectrum of Israeli society. All see incredible importance in both American Jews engaging with Israel and Israeli Jews engaging with the American Jewish community. We represent the two centers of modern Jewish life.
Engagement with Israelis has led me to become a more intentional American Jew. As I gain a deeper understanding of the dilemmas and questions with which Israelis themselves grapple, I am forced to ask questions about American civil society and how my Jewish values can intentionally be reflected in my decision-making process. A similar challenge is true for Israeli Jews as well. Understanding the diversity and complexity of Judaism in America, a country with separation between synagogue and state (more frequently referred to as church and state) asks Israelis to consider Jewish religious practice in their own lives, a different challenge in Israel as compared to the U.S. because, in Israel, Judaism, a faith based on personal commitment to a community of practice that has evolved over centuries, is institutionalized in a government agency.
Life is ever-changing and migration is common. I think the Torah is telling us that a diaspora is inevitable; people move; not all of the Jews will remain in the Land of Israel. Yet the tribes of Reuven and Gad vow to remain part of the people — so, too, do we, American Jews and Israeli Jews, need to continuously renew our vows to Jewish peoplehood.
While American Judaism and Israeli Judaism continue to grow and change based on different contexts, we share deep similarities and values and a shared responsibility to pursue justice for ourselves and all humanity.
Davey Rosen is a Jewish educator based in Ann Arbor and a rabbinic student at the Academy for Jewish Religion in New York.
In what ways is your life impacted by Israel? How has the relationship between the American Jewish community and Israel developed over the past 70 years? What possibilities do you see for the future of this relationship?