With all that’s going on in Israel, I wish I could be there. That’s not only because my son Josh lives there, or because my son Benji is on a summer program touring the country, or because my in-laws just arrived at their home in Israel for a six week stay, or because Amy and I have extended family members there. I wish I could be there because there’s a crisis going on and part of me feels strongly that being a Zionist, even a Zionist who doesn’t live in Israel, should support Israel by being in the land. Of course, the IDF (Israel’s armed forces) doesn’t need me, nor do Israelis need my personal encouragement to cope with the stress of living under the threat of attack. But each day that the war with Gaza goes on, each day that millions of Israelis have to endure the threat of missile attacks launched by terrorists motivated by ideological hatred of Jews and the State of Israel, I feel that I want to be in Israel. I’m not able to be there now, but I would be if I could.
So I read with special interest the story in this week’s parasha about the proposal by the Reubenites and the Gadites, made to Moses and the elders of the community, that they settle not in the Land of Canaan (later to become Israel), as God promised the people, but rather in the lands east of the Jordan river. As the narrative tells it, these two tribes wished to settle east of the Jordan because those lands “were a region suitable for cattle” and they had a lot of cattle. Moses responds to their request with bitter criticism, chastising them for being no better than the people who supported Korah in his rebellion. He says, “Are your brothers to go war while you stay here? Why will you turn the minds of the Israelites from crossing into the land that the Lord has given them?” Clearly, Moses is concerned that if the Reubenites and the Gadites don’t cross the river and fight to inhabit the land along with the rest of the people, they will send a message that the land can’t be conquered. Others would then want to follow suit and remain on the east of the Jordan where they think it will be safer. The Midrash also questions the motives of the Reubenites and the Gadites, citing that their proposal to Moses prioritizes grazing for their cattle over building homes for their children.
In the end, the two tribes promise to fight alongside their fellow Israelites and then return to settle on the land to the east of the Jordan. What can we draw from the story? Perhaps the message here is that the Reubenites and Gadites erred by separating from the rest of their people. Perhaps their motivations were not so pure and instead were based on financial gain, as the Midrash suggests.
But perhaps we can read the story from the perspective of those who love Israel but live in the Diaspora. Perhaps it is a story about people who care deeply about the fate and welfare of their people, despite wishing to live outside of Israel. The Reubenites and the Gadites offered to support their fellow Israelites despite the fact that they ultimately chose to live elsewhere. Rather than condemn them, we can understand them and appreciate their good intentions.
Fast forward to the days we are now living through. Israel is facing a serious threat, with no end in sight. I hope and pray that a cease fire will be declared and Israeli soldiers and civilians will not face the danger and threat of missile attacks, just as I hope and pray that all innocent people caught up in this terrible tragedy are spared any further pain and suffering. I hope that the community of civilized nations will finally accept the fact that Israel faces a threat to the safety and security of her citizens, and will abandon their petty and close minded criticism of Israel’s military response to terrorists. I hope that one-sided and biased reporting of events in Gaza will be replaced by a more comprehensive and even-handed perspective about a tragic situation made necessary by terrorists firing missiles into Israel.
Until then, what can we do? Like the Reubenites and Gadites, who opted to live outside of Israel but continued to care about their people, their nation and their land, we can offer Israel our love and our support. We can contribute to the emergency campaign organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest New Jersey. We can attend the Solidarity Rally sponsored by our Federation on Monday, July 21 at 9:30 AM…I plan to attend and I hope you will as well. We can be informed advocates for Israel, able to answer her critics and enemies with accurate information. We can support organizations that seek to support and advocate for Israel.
I want to be in Israel, but I can’t right now, so that is what I’ll do.