parsha of the week

We are all on the journey together


We finally made it! The week our Torah reading catches up with that of Israel!

We have been misaligned with our brothers and sisters ever since they observed Shabbos and read Parshat Shemini on the day that we observed the eighth day of Pesach. Why it took so long to catch up is a fascinating conversation we will not be looking at now. However, the fact that we catch up now stems from a halachic: Devarim is always read on the Shabbos before Tisha B’Av. (More accurately, “Tisha B’Av always precedes Vaetchanan,” Shulchan Aruch 428:4.)

That means that Masei must be read this week, on the Shabbos before the-Shabbos-before-Tisha-B’Av.

The image Tisha B’Av conjures up is one of devastation and destruction and the most significant image of Parshat Masei is the list of travels upon which the Israelites journeyed.

And so, with a homiletical leap off the page, we ought to consider what this reminder of journeys so close to Tisha B’Av might be suggesting to us.

Every year we go through the journey of life, the journey of family, the journey of community. Each year we hope we navigated it a little better. During the Three Weeks and Nine Days, we tell ourselves that we’ve worked on our relationships with our fellow man because — after all — what brought about the devastation and destruction of the First and Second Temples respectively were murder, idolatry and immorality (Temple 1) and baseless hatred (Temple 2). We don’t want to stay on the hook for those behaviors; that would indicate that we are partly responsible for living through another generation in which the Temple has not been rebuilt (Yerushalmi Yoma 1:1:5:1).

The Yerushalmi there adds another reason, not often mentioned, for why the second Temple was destroyed: “People loved money and hated one another.”

An Israeli rabbi was recently criticized by a number of news outlets for referring to the loss of millions of Jews to assimilation as a “Holocaust.” He didn’t mean there was a genocide, or that assimilation is the result of anti-Semitism. His point simply was that Jewish population numbers have been severely curtailed, to the tune of millions of souls, due to assimilation. We can argue over the usage of the loaded term “Holocaust,” but his observation is not wrong.

This time of year, we focus on the word “Churban.” There has been a churban this year, largely driven by money and the love of money, to demonize and hate our fellow Jews. It’s a complicated situation, but consider the following emails I’ve received. The authors contacted me because of an article I wrote for the Jewish Star in December 2018.

On account of the hatred that has been directed to her family, including being thrown out of her shul, a woman wrote to me, “I’m at the point where I just feel like I don’t want to be part of Orthodoxy in general. I don’t want to be part of this group. I believe in G-d and the Torah and I want to remain Torah observant, but I don’t want to be part of any Jewish community. I’m not sure what to do, how to move on and find my place.”

From a husband and father, “My kids have been kicked out. The rabbi grabbed my wife to pull her out of the school building. We’ve been yelled at. Our ‘friends’ all hate us. We have no choice … I’ll live with the non-Jews. I don’t know how we’ll keep Shabbat. We probably won’t.  There is no yeshiva that will accept my children. After what happened to my son there is no way I’m conforming. And the funny thing is, my wife converted to Judaism, and she’s having a very hard time with this.  This isn’t the Judaism she signed up for.”

From a wife and mother: “Our rabbi kicked us out of shul. We have been shomer Shabbat since 2013. Now, for the first time since then, we are going to find ourselves driving to shul for Shabbat services to a place that is welcoming. That is on the rabbi’s shoulders.”

My heart breaks when I read these letters. I suppose it’s not my place to judge the cause and the affected. It’s been 74 years since the official end of the Holocaust, and the challenge of assimilation in America has only grown.

But this one is new — because it is Orthodox Jews throwing out Orthodox Jews. Yes, we have much to mourn, but there is much we will be held accountable for. Once again, our actions have prevented the Temple from being rebuilt.

The journeys of Masei are meant to show us that we must, must find a place for everyone. We are all on the journey of Jewish life together. Could the Gadites have a problem with the Danites and expel them? Even in the Book of Shoftim, towards the end, when all the tribes go to war against the tribe of Binyamin, as soon as they realize that there are only 600 Benjaminites remaining, they end the war “so that a tribe of Israel would not be wiped out.”

The war must end. We have to learn to live with each other once again, without hatred. Only then will we truly be on the proper path to the building of the third Temple.