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~ Rabbi Shefa Gold's Torah Journeys ~

~ Rabbi Shefa Gold's Torah Journeys ~



NUMBERS 30:2 - 32:42

This portion describes the Israelite's war against the Midianites.


THE BLESSING OF MATTOT is well-hidden beneath a dark and terrible story of

vengeance. "The last thing you will do before you die," God whispers to Moses, "is to manifest
the battle that has been raging within you."
When Mohammed talked of Jihad, Holy War, he described the "Lesser Jihad," the battle that
we wage outside of ourselves, and the "Greater Jihad," the battle that we must face within. All
the holy wars that we fight, all our enmity and fierce devotion to the cause of destroying one
another, can be traced back to the true battle raging within us. That inner battle rages on
beneath our awareness, yet its power, projected out on the "other," fuels the injustices of the
world. When those injustices become so dramatically evident and painfully obvious, it is
possible to have a blessed moment of stunned awareness that sends us within, in search of the
source of this madness. It is at this moment that the blood that is on our own hands shocks us
awake. It is when the furious words that come out of our mouths are so clearly contradictory to
our professed values, that we are forced to acknowledge our "Greater Jihad," the war that rages
inside us.

MOSES RAISES AN ARMY and launches a war of revenge against the Midianites. After
killing all the Midianite men, taking the women and infants prisoner, burning the Midianite
cities and seizing the Midianite wealth, the army returns. They are greeted by Moses who is
furious. "What! You let the women live?!" he demands. And then he commands the army to
murder all the mature women and the male infants.
In this terrible moment, that contradicts all the laws of mercy and kindness, that overturns
even the laws of warfare; in this moment of witnessing the awful cruelty unleashed by
unrestrained power, even the most callous among us must begin to wonder, "What is the
source of this hatred? What is fueling this obsession? How can it be stopped?"
We look to the life-story of Moses for answers. The name of this portion means "Tribes."
Where do we find our identity? How is that identity sustained? How is it threatened?

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~ Rabbi Shefa Gold's Torah Journeys ~

MOSES GREW UP WITH TWO IDENTITIES: Egyptian prince, and child of Hebrew slaves.
When he left Egypt, for all intents and purposes he himself became a Midianite. Moses
married Tzippora, a Midianite woman. And his father-in-law Yitro became his teacher.The
Midianite tribe became his family. Legend has it that he lived there as a shepherd for 40 years,
learning and growing into his calling as prophet.
Whenever we try to reject a part of ourselves, that part becomes our shadow. The shadow is
the part of us that is hidden from the light of consciousness. In that moment when blind fury
unfolds into hatred against the other, we can be sent from the Lesser Jihad, from the battle in
the world, to the Greater Jihad - the battle within. We are jarred into the realization that the
external battle is only a dim reflection of the inner battle that has been raging all along. Once
exposed, the shadow can be healed.
Only when we acknowledge the warring tribes within us, can we begin to make peace, first
in ourselves and then in the world. A moment of tragic cruelty, illuminated by the light of
humility and wisdom, becomes a hard-earned blessing. In that moment, our identity expands
from tribal to universal. In that moment, our tribal identity becomes transparent. The structure
of that identity still gives us meaning and comfort, but we can also see right through it and
celebrate the many tribes that constitute the human family, all of us interconnected, bound to
each other through our shared humanity.
The moment when Moses' cruelty is unmasked, and we see a man at war with himself, is a
moment of blessing. The moment when Moses' violent turmoil is revealed, we see a man who
has rejected a part of himself. This is a moment of blessing. In this moment the spiritual work
of healing begins.

LET US REMEMBER that the Torah is not a story about someone else and it is not about
some other time. It is a map of the inner landscape. It is a revelation, shining the light of
awareness on all the myriad facets of human experience. AND IT IS HAPPENING IN THIS
PRESENT MOMENT. If we are to truly receive the blessing of Torah, we must take the
opportunity of our shock at Moses' cruelty to unmask and face our own capacity to
dehumanize the other. The story of Mattot shows us that our own cruelty is the result of an
inner struggle long buried by our defenses and denial. In that struggle, our tribal identity is
rendered opaque. Our identity becomes a shield and a weapon; a shield against the truth of our
human vulnerability, and a weapon against the "stranger."

WE FIND THE BLESSING of Mattot in the fact that although the Torah tells us of Moses'
command to kill the women and children, it doesn't tell us whether this order was ever carried
out. Each of us must search within and discern our own capacity for cruelty born of our
personal confusions, conditioned misperceptions and brokenness. Yet ultimately, it is up to us
whether those shadows will birth tragedy. It is up to us to decide whether or not their orders
will be carried out.
When I listen for the negativity of my shadow side and encounter a voice of hatred or
jealousy or an urge for revenge, I must avoid reacting with blame, shame or recrimination. My
response must be compassion for myself. Only when my remorse is healthy can it become a
blessing. For only then will I have the reserve for compassion to annul the command of cruelty.
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