This week’s parashah is Matot-Masei (Tribes-Marches). Totally 244 verses and covering a wide range of events and topics, this double parashah is the longest read on Shabbat and the last parashah for B’mid’bar/Numbers.
The significant events delineated include:
Vows must be taken seriously. While all men’s vows are in their control, only a widowed or divorced woman has control of her vows.
Tz’laf’khad daughters’ request their portion of their father’s land. Moshe takes their request to The Eternal and God approves, expanding Jewish inheritance laws to include daughters.
War is waged against the Midianites and the Moabites, and our ancestors are victorious.
The Boundaries of the Land of Israel are marked.
Cities of Refuge for people who accidently kill another person are to be established upon entering the land. Lastly,
We arrive at the steppes of Moav at the Jordan river ready to cross over to the Promised Land.
Personally, I am grateful that B’mid’bar is ending. I have always found its escalating violence both fascinating and troublesome. However, this year it was just hard. In previous chapters, B’mid’bar details so many various instances of rebellion, internal and external levels of violence and the consequences that it doesn’t make sense to detail them in this moment. Their primary purpose seems to be to say something about the strength, power, primacy, and sanctity of The Eternal, and the multiple folies, sensibilities, kindness, and fears of humanity in general, and how we as Jews are to navigate the both/and of relating to ourselves, one another, other humans, and The Eternal.
Until this year, in my compartmentalized mind, it was easy to discuss ancient societies, tribes, and cultures and the uses of violence to protect, defend, and take. The modern imperialistic view of violence is as an important tool to protect, defend, and control, until we’re done. Then we walk away, taking no responsibility for the mess we created.
Closer to home, something broke in me, in many of my friends, colleagues, and strangers across the country, and around the world with the murder of George Floyd. Prior to his death, I uneasily acquiesced to the general blame the victim attitude that even the most loving of my friends and teachers had toward police killings of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people. Now, the level of violence a plurality of us potentially face daily is no longer secret, and untenable.
There is no place in my body to tuck the fear and deal with it situationally alone or with other darked skinned people.
The disparity in “police” thinking regarding who is suspicious allowed the insurrection on January 6 to occur unimpeded and impeded the thinking of key responders. Officials didn’t want to see the high potential for violence by people who looked like them. Yet, many of us of all colors saw it coming and we are not on the sites that facilitated the planning.
What would happen if more of us emulated Tz’laf’khad’s daughters
No. The ability to shirk away or stay silent is no longer available to me. And, I’m realizing it never was. I pretended to take a break from my brokenheartedness. Like my grief for Mom, it too, is a constant companion.
Through my brokenheartedness, I see the Cities of Refuge as a theological attempt to interrupt a deeply rooted practice and cycle of violence that only led to more violence, leading to more violence… Violence induced trauma scares everyone: the targets, the perpetrators, the witnesses, and the circles of families, friends, caregivers, and communities for each and all.
What would happen if more of us emulated Tz’laf’khad’s daughters, speaking up and out to question what we know in our hearts is unnecessarily unfair in the moment that we see it, or as soon as we are made aware of it.
Yes, this is not a question. It is an assertion. We read, hear, or learn about something awful that happened. The spectrum of closeness we have to the incident, the more devastating and as we heal we seek to do something to prevent another rape, murder, harassment, beating, name-calling, hazing… the list is endless in the ways we can try to dehumanize another. However, victims are never debased or dehumanized. It is we, the perpetrators of racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, heterosexism, ablism, agism, imperialism – the list is endless of the ways through which we attempt to debase another, thereby debasing ourselves.
The further away we are from the action, the more likely we are to claim we are helpless and unable to make a difference when we’ve never accepted the invitation into the question: Who do I need to be to make a difference?
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote “…morally speaking, there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.” Tz’laf’khad daughters – Makh’lah, No’ah, Khog’lah, Mal’khah, and Tir’tzah; the Cities of Refuge, Rabbi Heschel, and the survivors of the Tulsa Massacre are calling us to move through our pretense of indifference to discover what we can do – however situationally – to interrupt the tendency toward violence in our country. And when we can, around the world. Shabbat Shalom.