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Two Minutes of Torah: Matot-Masei - Responsibility for others

In one of my favorite scenes in the original Star Wars movie, and I’m sorry if I’m spoiling it for anyone, Han Solo returns to save Luke Skywalker as they’re attacking the Death Star.  Earlier in the film, Han had left, taking the money he’d received and seemingly not caring or feeling any responsibility to help Luke or the rest of the rebels as they battled against the Evil Empire.  But we see that Han really is the hero we hoped he would be as he comes back recognizing that he is responsible for others and that there is more to life than just money. 

In this week’s Torah portion we see potentially a similar occurrence as the Reubenites and the Gaddites come to the land of Jazer and Gilead and realize that this would be a perfect region for them to raise their cattle. 

They then go to Moses and Eleazar the priest and the chieftains of the community and ask, “Can we stay on this side of the Jordan, in this land, and have this as our holding, as our inheritance.”  And, Moses' response is “are your brothers to go to war while you stay here?” 

The response of the Reubenites and Gaddites is unequivocal, they respond and say “we will build here sheepfolds for our flocks and towns for our children and then we will hasten as shock troops in the van of the Israelites until we’ve established them in their home.  While our children stay in the fortified towns because of the inhabitants of the land.  We will not return to our homes until every one of the Israelites is in possession of his portion, but we will not have a share with them in the territory beyond the Jordan, for we have received our share on the east side of the Jordan.”

In this moment, those two tribes pledged themselves to be responsible for the other tribes as they cross over the Jordan and conquer the Promised Land.  What’s striking is that Moses says to them “are your brothers to go to war while you stay here?”   And, while originally, the tribal leaders were brothers when it was the sons of Jacob; Reuben, Shimon, Levy, Judah and so on.  Many many generations have passed since then.  And so, at best now, we’re talking about very distant cousins and yet, Moses still uses the term “brothers” and the response is “we are responsible for our brothers”. 

When we consider that we are all descended from Adam and Eve and then again from Noah, we might recognize that in many ways, we are brothers with all of humanity, and, as such, this episode serves as an indication that we are responsible for everyone.  Not just our immediate family, but even if they were brothers or sisters hundreds of thousands of years ago, as we are all descended from Adam and Eve and Noah, we are all brothers and sisters with all of humanity.

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