ONE LAND, ONE PEOPLE – “Mas’ey” – Num. 33-36 by Rabbi Baruch Cohon
The last section in the Book of Numbers recounts the journeys of the Israelite people to reach the east bank of the Jordan. Then it sets up rules to be followed in the forthcoming invasion and occupation of the Land of Israel. And it details the borders of the new country. Compared with a map of that area today, we notice that sections like Judea and Samaria on the west bank of the Jordan are part of the Promised Land.
We will also read a warning here in connection with preparations for Joshua’s war of conquest. “If you do not expel the residents of the land, those who remain will become spikes in your eyes and thorns in your sides.” Today, read “rockets in your schoolyards and suicide bombers in your market places.” Indeed, some of the resident tribesmen did remain. Over succeeding centuries, however, the likes of Perizites and Philistines and Girgashites vanished from history. And even though our ancestors tried to abolish those tribes’ idolatry, it also reappeared and ensnared some vulnerable Israelites in orgiastic practices like those they encountered in the desert. But Hebron and Bethlehem were Israelite cities, and the Temple Mount was Judaism’s headquarters for some two millennia until the first Destruction and exile to Babylon.
What can we and modern Israel learn from the commandment to “drive them out?” Is it too late? Does it really apply to today at all? Or is it ultimately the only route to national security? Indian Reservations worked in American history. Would such an arrangement merit consideration in Israel?
Given the attitude of Israel’s pioneers and its leaders today, and the pressure they get from other governments, the answer has to be No. The warning in our Torah reading is just that, a warning. It came true with inevitable results many times in many places. Defeated residents resist, attack and betray their conquerors. But one fact stands out in the history of the world. When two countries fight a war and territory changes hands, people who live in that territory have a choice: (1) accept the new government, or (2) move out. That seems to be the rule everywhere – except in Israel.
So we live with conditions in which an alien government rules Judaism’s holiest hill, victorious Israeli forces voluntarily withdraw from large areas that become bases for violent attack, and “diplomats” keep talking about a “peace process.”
Thorns in your sides, my friends. Thorns in your sides. It will take some inspired leadership and perhaps Divine intervention to find a way out of this morass. And our prayers wouldn’t hurt either.
Moses and Joshua faced this reality, in the last words of the Book of Numbers, “al Yarden Yeriho” – by the Jordan at Jericho. To which we in our congregations will respond: “Hazak, hazak v’nit-hazek” – Be strong, be strong and let us strengthen each other!