21.07.2012 02.Aw. 5772 Matot-Massei
'Shall your brethren go to war, while you settle here?' (Numbers 32:6)
The tribes of Gad and Reuben are so taken with the grazing potential of the land east of the Jordan River that they request permission to remain there and establish their settlement.
Moses rebukes them, insisting that they must first join the other tribes in battle, and only once the entire land is conquered, “may you return, so that you come out pure in the eyes of God and of Israel.” (Numbers 32: 22) Last year, Rabbi Shaul Robinson (who is now my successor as rabbi of Lincoln Square Synagogue, and a very beloved student) was surprised on entering a Satmar bakery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to see a large Hebrew sign which read, “Shall your brethren go to war while you settle here?” He immediately asked the owners, “Can this be true? Are you encouraging young haredi men to join the IDF? Have you really joined the ranks of the religious Zionists?” The owner of the bakery pointed out that the verse was actually being cited by the Satmar Hassidim to encourage participation in demonstrations in favor of Sabbath observance. Unfortunately, the hassidim did not understand the irony in the verse whose meaning they were distorting for their purposes….