(Apologies to how this is formatted. This is the best I could do with the tech environment I’m in)
Standing at the edge of the Land, amassing at the border, and preparing to go in, Moses heard something he never expected to hear, “Do not move us across the Jordan” . The tribal heads of Reuben, Gad and half the tribe of Menassah stated that they wanted to remain on the east side of the Jordan River, and didn’t want to cross over into the Land.
Moses’ whole purpose on this journey was to move the entire Israelite community into the Land God had promised them. And now, so close, these Israelites didn’t want to go? Moses told them they were repeating the sins of the Spies, when heads of all the tribes went in to do a reconnaissance of the Land. Eight of the ten scouts came back and said the people would never survive; only Caleb and Joshua reassured the people they would be successful. As a reward, out of that original Exodus generation, only Caleb and Joshua survived long enough to see the Land.
But here were people who didn’t want to go in. They said the land on the east side of the river was better for them and their herds. They wanted to build shelters for their animals, build cities for their families. Moses said, “Are your brothers to go to war” (Num 32:6), meaning, are they going to fight for the land, and you’re going to sit out the struggle? The tribes agreed to send in “shock troops” to help fight the battle for the Land, but afterward, they wanted to go back to their families on the east riverbank.
Today, we are on the cusp of another battle, between Jews in Israel and those outside the Land. Recently, non-Orthodox Jews have been attacked again by the ultra-Orthodox community in Israel, questioning their actual identity as Jews and restricting access to places like the Kotel, to live their authentic Jewish lives as they see fit. The rift between the ruling ultra-Orthodox rabbis and Jews around the world is getting wider, deeper and far more hurtful. I don’t consider myself in the Diaspora – as the tribal heads of Reuben, Gad and Menasseh said, they liked the land where they were, as do I. But they were asked to fight for those who would go in, and for generations, Jews around the world have done the same. But the East-Side Israelites’ identity wasn’t questioned; in fact, God approved of their actions, blessing them.
Few in the Israeli government are blessing me and my fellow non-Orthodox Jews now. What then, is my real responsibility to Israel? Am I expected to keep supporting, both literally, figuratively, financially and emotionally, a country which questions my own Jewish identity, and works to keep me away from my own Holy Places in a way I see fit? It has become quite a strain, one that pulls on my heart daily.
The East-Side Israelites were blessed for recognizing that, though they weren’t going into the Land, their identity and authenticity as members of the community and their connection to those that were going to live on the west side of the Jordan was just as strong and just as valid. Today, we deserve no less. Or they risk even moreso the deterioration of community ties, and the alienation that will follow. It’s already started.