Mase’i: No more

sadnessI’m tired.  And I can’t stop looking at the news and Facebook.  As I write this, I have no idea how these words will read tomorrow or the day after or next week, whenever you might get around to reading them.

“… you shall dispossess all the inhabitants of the land; you shall destroy all their figured objects; you shall destroy all their molten images, and you shall demolish all their cult places.  And you shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have assigned the land to you to possess.  ….

“… you shall dispossess all the inhabitants of the land; you shall destroy all their figured objects; you shall destroy all their molten images, and you shall demolish all their cult places.  And you shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have assigned the land to you to possess.  ….

This isn’t from Hamas. This is from this week’s Torah portion, Masei. (Num 33:51-53)  God says this to Moses, and Moses is to tell the people.

I dismiss it.  I reject it.  I cringe when I read it.  Is there any more painful proof than this, that there were PEOPLE who were living there when we came into the land?  Maybe this was the way we began in the land, but no more.  We can’t. I can’t. I won’t.  It’s hard for me even to try to figure out why God would say this, that this sort of scorched-earth destruction was not only ok, but commanded.  This is the God to follow?  Someone tell me how this is ok.

I have a friend and teacher, a Modern Orthodox rabbi  who has said, referencing some of the more obscure commandments in the Torah,  “We don’t live by this book.  We live by the commentary to this book.”  Meaning, we post-Modern Jews don’t live by the literal text of the Torah, although some do, I suppose.   If we didn’t live by the commentary, we’d still be offering up animal sacrifice and stoning sinners.  Yet, we are guided by the Torah itself, the lessons hidden, to be found by turning it and turning it again.  The Torah is valuable only in how we make it relevant to our lives today, adding commentary every single day we struggle with it.  Elsewhere in this parasha, we read of Zelophechad’s daughters, who challenge the status quo by asking for land inheritance rights even though they’re women.  It would have been easier to write about those verses, not these. Anyway, the daughters get their rights.  Change can be found in the Torah, when some things just don’t reflect reality or no longer hold the values we’ve come to, well, value.

I try to turn off Facebook , yet I still read and read and read more.  I click, and click and post and click and then weep and sigh and click some more.  All because we’re engaged in a real fight with real people on both sides, dying and crying. How we got here is less important than the sickening knowledge I’ve come to understand (and not so recently, but I struggle, oh I how I struggle with it) that Israel has to do what it’s doing, it has to.  Those tunnels have to be destroyed.  Those people who want to kill my family have to be stopped.  Those rockets have to stop, from both sides, and frankly, from my weary and despairing state of mind right now, I can’t want one side to stop more than the other.  People are mourning on both sides; after all, it is war and that’s what happens in war.

So, what to do with this text?  Is this a lesson in the breach, telling us how not to behave?  Because, really, I can’t read that and not think that it’s just wrong, wiping out an entire people and their holy places is just wrong.  I won’t blame the kind of people who take these words literally, saying it’s all their fault we are where we are, there is a straight line between what they’ve done and said, and what’s happening now.  I do see the harm done by extremists in our own community.  I will keep speaking out against what I think is so very wrong in their beliefs and actions.  But now?   Where is the line being drawn now, from here on?  I can only stand up against the kind of intolerance in this text.  And wait for next week’s parasha, when I can pick up the book, look inside, and hope that by then, we’ve moved beyond this text in more ways than one.

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3 Responses to Mase’i: No more

  1. Julie Webb says:

    I feel exactly the same way. And now reading Ari Shavit’s book, “My Promised Land,” makes it all even more real, more painful, more complex to hold all these things together.

  2. Victoria Presser says:

    Gut Gezogt!

  3. awareci says:

    Hi Anita

    I differ from you on those verses although agree about Zelophehad’s daughters which is one of my favourite Torah episodes. Zelophehad’s daughters show how God wants there to be equality between men and women, and that women have equal rights to approach leadership figures who need to respond properly – I wish that some modern leaders would take note.

    The problem with how women are treated in ultra-Orthodox circles relates to the offending verses. The Torah was never meant to be read literally. It’s a note-book of lectures God gave to Moshe over 40 days & nights. It doesn’t take 40 days and nights to just read the Torah. (We do that each year – 50 or so weeks (if not a leap year) for 30-60 minutes reads the whole Torah. So it could have been covered in 2 days – NOT 40. The whole corpus of Jewish law and interpreting the Torah was what took the other 38 days). The problem today is that some passages are re-interpreted due to modern views or in the case of the ultra-Orthodox and women, anti-modern views that try to set the clock back.

    So getting back to those offending verses – and Hamas. Rewrite them for today:

    “… you shall dispossess all the inhabitants of the land that want to kill you; you shall destroy all their rocket launchers that are used to fight you; you shall destroy all their rockets, that fire on you, and you shall demolish all their tunnels that they place a holy value on. But those that love you and want to work with you, you shall take possession of their hearts and settle in their hearts, supporting them as I have assigned you to work together for peace….”

    Would you disagree with this?

    Those tunnels are the equivalent of cult places. Hamas place holiness in dying as a martyr – training kids to wear suicide belts i.e. a figured objects. They glorify the martyr – naming streets on them and putting up pictures of them everywhere.

    That was what Moshe was also fighting and what God commanded: destroy perversions of humanity and stop those that want to continue it. Molech workship then involved passing your children through fire to kill them as a sacrifice. Is that so difference to sending your kids to kill us with suicide belts. (As Golda Meir reportedly said – they will be peace when the Palestinians love their children more than they hate ours.)

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