Parashat Matot: Family Comes Before Business
Read the teaching below, or watch a video of the teaching by Yehuda Bachana.
This week’s Torah portion discusses the topic of war. How ironic and sad is it that we, the State of Israel, are once again entangled in territorial conflicts, especially in Gaza. History continues to repeat itself, and we find ourselves with the sword unsheathed, with a rifle in hand, with the intent of defending the citizens of Israel.
The security mindset of the State of Israel is based on one need: preserving its existence. The basic assumption is that Israel must not lose any war, because failure to stop any existential threats could mean the destruction of the Holy Land.
The Three Weeks of Bein HaMetzarim
Our parasha touches on the darker sides of warfare: killing, looting, assassinations, collective punishment – in short, a raging fire.
The three-week period of Bein HaMetzarim commences with the day that the walls of Jerusalem were sealed until the fast of Tisha B’Av, the day the Temple was destroyed. These days mark the times of tribulation and distress associated with the destruction of the First and Second Temples. According to tradition, this is a time when the laws of mourning apply, and they become more and more stringent as they approach Tisha B’Av.
On the three Sabbaths during this period of mourning, we read the three haftarot (weekly readings from the prophets) that deal with the tribulations and punishments that will come about due to the sins of the people. After Tisha B’Av, in the next seven Sabbaths, we read haftarot that have a theme of comfort and forgiveness. These days commemorate the destruction of the Temple and the exiles of the people of Israel.
This week’s portion, Parashat Matot, always falls during this period of Bein HaMetzarim. It emphasizes the contrast between promises, hope, our land and home, and between destruction, exile, and the hiding of God’s face from His people.
“Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. ‘Do you see all these things?’ he asked. ‘Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; everyone will be thrown down.’” – Matthew 24:1,2 [NIV]
God has Not Abandoned His People
In these weeks we begin to think and talk about Tisha B’Av, about the meaning of this day, and about the destruction. However, it is very difficult to internalize and mourn the destruction of Jerusalem, which happened thousands of years ago, when today around us grows and blooms a large, progressive, and strong city.
The lesson of the people of Israel for generations to come is that there is always hope; the hope for salvation, redemption, for returning home from afar, from dispersion to assembly, from punishment to forgiveness and consolation. Today we are waiting for His face to be revealed, for the day when the people of Israel will proclaim, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” and kneel before Yeshua the Messiah.
I believe with all my heart that God has not abandoned His people and that Yeshua continues to lead the people of Israel, even if in secret. Yeshua is the one who leads us and time again saves the State of Israel. The day will come when the veil will be removed and the people of Israel will accept Him as He is – as the Messiah, the King of Israel.
Why its Important to Remember the Past
There are numerous reasons why we are instructed to remember the past. First and foremost, in order to continue our existence and life, to always stand on our own, and to not allow anyone to hurt us.
Remembrance is essential to our continued existence as a people. It is necessary for the rehabilitation and building of a country in a physical and spiritual way. Likewise, remembrance is an important factor to bringing about change.
Having foresight doesn’t necessarily mean having the gift of prophecy. But rather it means the ability to look at the past and the present, and predict what will happen in the future.
Does the Torah Excuse Military Service?
Another hot topic in the national arena, a matter that threatens even to topple the government, is the issue of recruiting orthodox Jews (Haredim) into the Israeli military.
The Haredim, who want their young men to spend those potential military years studying the Torah instead, cry out: “They want to kill us, the Torah is our life, this is a battle of life and death.”
From where does a Torah student get the excuse not to serve in the army – because of the Torah? The argument that a Torah student should refuse to enlist in the IDF is a very weak one, because the Torah encourages and possibly even demands, military service. The book of Torah that we have been studying for the past few weeks, Numbers, begins with the requirement for a military census of the tribes:
“You and Aaron are to count according to their divisions all the men in Israel who are twenty years old or more and able to serve in the army.” – Numbers 1:3 [NIV]
In Deuteronomy, there is a list of reasons for exemption from military service, like the building of a new house, getting married, etc. It should be noted that studying Torah is not one of those reasons. (Deuteronomy 20:5-8)
In our parasha, the tribes of Gad and Reuben saw the richness and greenery beyond the Jordan River, and they asked permission from Moses to settle there instead of entering into the Promised Land. At first, Moses was angry with them because he sensed a hint of the previous rebellion of the spies. Moses attacked them with a rhetorical question:
“…Should your fellow Israelites go to war while you sit here?” – Numbers 32:6 [NIV]
Only after the tribes of Dan and Reuben promised to enlist in the spearhead force for the purpose of conquering the Promised Land, did Moses calm down and allow them to settle across the Jordan River.
Enlistment and Messianic Faith
From here I want to continue to the context of the Messianic faith. In regards to enlistment in the military, opinions may vary, however the majority of Messianic believers in Israel agree to enlist and to do so with pride. However, the question of military ethics arise from time to time.
Some believers encourage enlistment, but not to combat units, because Yeshua commands us to treat our enemy with love. According to them, Yeshua spoke against holding the sword, in other words, He spoke against the possession of arms.
For my part, I’ll say that precisely those God-fearing believing soldiers who serve in combat, right in the flash-points of military conflict, are the ones who can show love, caring, and mercy. They can do so through simple acts of kindness, which are expected as a part of military procedure.
Believing soldiers show how it is possible to maintain both security and humane treatment at the same time. I believe that the Messianic soldiers are the glory of the State of Israel.
What was Special about the Transjordan
Let us return to this week’s parasha and the Transjordan question of the aforementioned tribes of Reuben and Gad.
Members of the tribes of Reuben and Gad went to Moses and asked for the Transjordan – why did they want this? They possessed large herds of livestock and we read that the land across the Jordan was rich and green. They said the following:
“…We would like to build pens here for our livestock and cities for our women and children.” – Numbers 32:16b [NIV]
The emphasis here is on building business, the business of agriculture.
In the response that Moses gave, he switched up the order of things:
“Build cities for your women and children, and pens for your flocks…” – Numbers 32:24a [NIV]
Here the word “build” first and foremost refers to children and family, and after that comes the work.
Family Should be Our First Priority
In today’s world, we are dealing with the same story. We spend so much time at work that we hardly see our children. We often have no idea what’s going on in their schools – and we don’t have time to hear about the dreams, the hopes, and the ideas of our children. We come home dead tired every day, and we don’t have the energy for a leisurely conversation.
The tribes of Reuben and Gad had much livestock, and the land beyond the Jordan was pleasing to them. They asked permission from Moses to settle there, and during the negotiation, the words slipped out, “We’ll build pens and cowsheds for business, and we’ll also build the rest, like homes for our families.”
Career is for the family and not the other way around, we forget that what matters is slow, and can not compete with the urgent. Paying the bills, property tax, rent, or a mortgage may seem much more critical than playing with legos or a good conversation.
When we retire, it will be too late. If we do not invest in the family, that ship will sink! I do not recommend dropping out of the race of life, but rather to change the order of thinking, and to put the family back at the top of our priorities.