VORTIFY YOURSELF

From
Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
e-mail yosil@MNSi.net

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PARSHAT MATOT/MASEI

Bamidbar (Numbers) 30:2-36:13
Haftorah - Jeremiah 2:4-28, 3:4, 4:1-2
990710


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Please pray for him and the others who were also injured.

These are the journeys of the Children of Israel, who went forth from the Land of Egypt according to their legions, under the hand of Moshe and Aharon.

Bamidbar 33:1

All the commentaries burst forth with the wonder of the forty two different encampments of the Children of Israel, listed in this week's Parsha. If you consider that in the first week, the Children of Israel made seven stops and in the last year of their journey, they made eight stops, totaling 15 of the forty two separate stops. Then, in thirty-nine years, the Children of Israel made only twenty-seven different stops, a truly astounding insight in what is commonly referred to as "the wanderings" of the Israelites in the desert.

Different commentaries attempt to give varying reasons for the listing of these stops.

Rashi explains, that the purpose was to publicize the loving kindness of Hashem, who in forty years, kept the encampments down to only forty-two.

The Rambam, in his Guide For The Perplexed, explains the necessity to enumerate the various stations the Israelites made in the wilderness, so that later generations will know that their travels were not disorganized nor were they haphazard, as so many believe. He also suggests that the same later generations, must be aware that these places were uninhibited and did not contain the resources necessary to sustain an multitude of over three million people. They will be aware of the miraculous nature of the journeys during those forty years.

Rashi and Rambam are of course both correct. Hashem's loving kindness was exhibited by not forcing the Children of Israel to literally wander, for forty years. And of course, the Rambam is also correct, that it is our responsibility to recognize the miraculous nature of their wanderings. Where did they find sufficient water and food for the vast mass of Israelites? Only the actuality of Hashem providing His own personal and heavenly nourishment, can answer that question.

We have a saying in our tradition - "the merits of our ancestors will be visited on their descendants". We too are recipients of Hashem's loving kindness. We too, the descendants of our ancient patriarchs have done our own wanderings; from place to place, location to location and at each location, we were confronted with different religions and scores of different philosophies. Unfortunately, these wanderings also have taken their toll on our people.

Josepheus, the Jewish historian, who lived during the Roman occupation of the Holy Land, records that at the time of the destruction of our Temple, in the year 70 C.E., there were seven million Jews in the world, stretching from England in the north and reaching India in the east. Can you imagine?

Seven million Jews, two thousand years ago, and today, our numbers have only doubled, despite the fact that the world's population doubles every 100 years? If we presume for arguments sake, that half of the Jews in every generation were killed in pogroms, inquisitions and holocausts, which is not at all true, then today there should be in excess of fifty million Jews. Where are they? What became of so many of our brethren?

Assimilation is the only answer that makes sense. More evil than Hitler, more devious than Chmeilnitsky and more offensive than forced conversions, is assimilation. We have falsely comforted ourselves in the ways of the world. Among us, there were always Jews who thought that the Jewish way was an anachronism - a lifestyle that is out of date and in need of modification. And so, we embraced and even invented various "isms." We had affairs with Buddhism, Hinduism and even Shintoism. We invented socialism, communism, even humanism. We tried to become Romans, Spaniards, British, Russians, Hungarians and Canadians, just to name a few.

The medieval dictum, based on the Talmud states: "a Jew, even if his sins, remains a Jew." Regardless of how we wish to view ourselves, the reality is that we remain Jewish.

During the 1950's Daniel Rufeisen, a Jewish convert to Catholicism - who became a Franciscan monk, decided to test the limits of this religious principle. Rufeisen, or "Brother Daniel," as he is commonly known emigrated to the State of Israel and applied for citizenship under "the Law of Return," which guarantees any child of at least one Jewish parent, the right to become an Israeli citizen upon request. Rufeisen argued that though he was a Catholic, he was still a member of the Jewish people. By the way, this case became what is known today as the basis of "Who is a Jew."

The Israeli Supreme Court rejected his application. A Jew who lives as a Christian, the justices argued, loses the right to call himself a Jew; for Jews, religion and nationality have been fused together since Ruth the Moabite declared to Naomi her mother-in-law: "Your people shall be my people and your G-d shall be my G-d."

One can no more be a Jewish Christian, than a Jewish Moslem. Furthermore, they argued, although the Rabbis of the Talmud would have considered Brother Daniel to be a Jew, in the sense that if he smoked a cigarette on the sabbath or ate on Yom Kippur, he would have been regarded as a "sinning Jew." They had no intention of rewarding apostate Jews with special benefits, such as those guaranteed by "the Law of Return."

During the past century, assimilation has been most aggressively promoted by Jews on the political left. Leon Trotsky, a leader of the Russian Revolution and at one time Lenin's heir-apparent, was born with the quintessentially Jewish name, Lev Bronstein. But during the revolutionary years, Trotsky assumed his non-Jewish name. In 1920, when Trotsky was head of the Red Army, Moscow's chief rabbi, Rabbi Mazeh, asked the Russian leader to use the army to protect the Jews from pogromist attacks.

Trotsky reputedly responded to the request: "Why do you come to me? I am not a Jew?" Rabbi Mazeh answered: "That's the tragedy. It's the Trotskys who make revolutions, and its the Bronsteins who pay the price." In his disdain for Jewish interests, Trotsky was the standard bearer of the Jews on the far left.

Wealthy European and North American Jews - politically the polar opposites of left-wing Jews - sheltered many aggressive assimilationists as well. Stephen Birmingham, in his famous book, "Our Crowd; The Great Jewish Families of New York," tells of the Seligmans, a powerful Jewish banking family, of German origins, who named one of their sons George Washington Seligman, and another, Alfred Lincoln Seligman, out of fear that Abraham Lincoln Seligman would sound too Jewish.

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, author of, "Jewish Humour: What the Best Jewish Jokes Tell About Jews," tells of another famous Jewish and assimilated banker Otto Kahn, who converted to Christianity, and was walking with a hunchbacked friend when they passed a synagogue. "You know I used to be a Jew," Kahn said. "And I used to be a hunchback," his companion replied.

Modern Jewish movements, once thought to be the salvation from assimilation, have proven in the past 100 years, that in fact, they have contributed considerably to the assimilation rate of North American Jewry.

What is the answer to the problems of assimilation? The answer is so obvious, that so-called Jewish intellectuals refuse to accept the simplicity of the solution. In order to be Jewish, we must live our lives as Jews. We must know in our very depths, that active participation in a traditional Jewish lifestyle is the only hope for a Jewish future.

The Israelites made forty two stops in the desert. At each they were faced with challenges. At some they succumbed to the temptations of assimilation, like worshiping the golden calf, or denying the authority of Moshe. At others, they held their own and continued their journey at the proper moment.

Those who entered the Land of Israel, were the products of Jews who refused to assimilate when the attractions of outside influences reared its destructive head. Those of us today, who call ourselves Jews, are also products of parents and grandparents who refused to assimilate, to convert or to take the unproven route. It is through understanding history, that the mistakes of previous generations, will not be made again.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig


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