July 2020, Parshat Matot Masei

Dear Friends,

This week I have had a lot of time to reflect on the difficulties many of us are facing during this first week of lockdown in Melbourne. No doubt the current situation is a little scary and unsettling, especially for those who now find yourselves running school from home for your children in addition to other family and work responsibilities.

I hope that each of you has taken a little bit of time each day to reflect and find a small positive lining. I know it cannot be easy to do so when everything seems so bleak, but I am sure that focusing on the small things that give you joy or make you smile can contribute to an overall better mood.

This month, July, we are also in the middle of Dry July. Dry July is a charity campaign that challenges people to abstain from drinking alcohol for the whole month of July in order to raise money to support adults who have cancer. While I had previously heard of this campaign, I have taken the Dry July pledge even more seriously this time around.

I urge all of you to get around this important cause and take its message seriously, especially during this lockdown period. There are more than 50 cancer support organisations that benefit from support from Dry July. Further information about how to get involved can be found on their website.

This week, the double Parsha of Matot- Masei provides a fascinating insight into the Jewish understanding of community building and mutual responsibility. It further provides insight into how leaders must communicate with a nation in order to address difficult problems relating to nation-building issues and community cohesiveness. When you contemplate the vision of an ideal nation and society, it most often reflects your own ideologies and core values.

Nation-building is generally only successful when personal values are central to subsequent actions which determine a nation’s fundamental goals and aspirations for their own unique brand of a utopian society.

So when a request by the tribes of Ruben, Gad and half the tribe of Menashe is received by Moshe, that they be allowed to settle alongside the Eastern Bank of the Jordanian River instead of settling in the land of Israel with their community, this caused a small crisis.

Rather than these tribes vying to enter into the Land of Israel as the rest of the nation had been yearning for during their 40-year journey through the desert, this seemingly innocuous request seemed to represent the antithesis of cohesive nation-building. This request seemed to represent the individual pursuits of the selected group needs of the tribes of Reuben, Gad and half of Menashe.

Moshe immediately addresses these concerns by asking these tribes whether they intend to abandon their community during a time of need. When the answer is received that they will support the nation building efforts by joining in the conquest of the land, and they have no intention of abandoning their community, all fears are immediately allayed and they are granted permission to settle on the Eastern Bank of the Jordan river.

This Parsha provides a lesson in understanding how the success of both the people and their nation are fundamentally linked to the values they adopt. Values influence how people behave and the outcomes of these actions will often determine the happiness and success of a group. Our priorities should reflect what kind of people we want to be.

Today, these values are ever more important as the world endures a global pandemic with millions across the world feeling isolated and alone. The challenge we face is to find the strength and courage to support each other so that when the world returns to normal we feel confident that we were the best versions of ourselves as possible and offered support to those that needed it. This way we can be sure that our actions reflect our values and together we build a stronger and more cohesive global community.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Gabi