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7.21.2017 Weekly Torah Portion

PostPosted: Fri Jul 21, 2017 9:29 pm
by RabbiMark
Two of the core values our community strives to continuously honor are honesty and truth. We describe honesty as being fully open about our experience in a given situation and truth as being about the “full picture of what's really going on.” Sometimes these two values are aligned and at other times, there may be a gap between the two perspectives. This can occur because of many reasons; for instance, out of fear, we may actively close our eyes to avoid seeing certain parts of “the full picture,” while in other situations, some aspects are hidden from us for reasons completely beyond our control.

While we strive to be transparent and honest in all of our affairs, on a practical level, this can easily get complicated depending on the situation. Even while upholding the values of truth-telling and honesty, it’s up to each of us to determine what information we choose to share, when, and with whom. As many of us well know, depending on our motivations, we can be quite selective in what we choose to share with others. At times, our attempt to manipulate a situation by embellishing or omitting certain information has gotten us in trouble. Fortunately, this week's double Torah portion (Matot/Masai) provides us with guidance about the appropriateness of revealing and/or concealing certain information.

Towards the beginning of the portion, G!D commands the Israelites to wage war against the neighboring Midianites. This is notable because, previously, the Israelites had engaged in improper sexual relations and idol worship with the Midianite women. Shortly after this incident, a large number of Israelites were afflicted with a plague. The plague is understood to be a consequence of failing to keep their sexual lust in check. This situation fits into an ongoing pattern between the Israelites and G!D during their forty years of wandering in the desert: the Israelites would act out in various ways against G!D’s commands, provoke G!D to initially respond with anger, and G!D would eventually offer forgiveness and another chance at reconciliation of their relationship.

It is worth noting that, in this week’s account of the events, the Torah shares something which had previously been omitted about the whole situation with the Midianites. As it turns out, the encounter with the Midianite women was part of a deliberate plot to undermine and ultimately destroy the Israelite community. The Torah attributes the whole ordeal to Balaam, the foreign prophet-for-hire, who instigates this plot by effectively using the Midianite women as bait to entice the Israelites to sin against G!D.

There is much discussion amongst commentators about why Balaam’s role in the situation isn’t revealed to the Israelites earlier. Nehama Leibowitz writes that this was done to reinforce the point that “...each individual is responsible for their own acts...provocation does not free the victim of responsibility.” That is, if the Israelites had been told how they had fallen prey to a larger conspiracy, it would have been very easy for them to primarily place blame on Balaam, conveniently ignoring their own responsibility in the situation.
Leibowitz goes on to say, “Man’s first loyalty is to the moral law, to G!D”: the Israelites knew they were prohibited from engaging in improper sexual relations and they chose to ignore the commitment they made to G!D.

Thus, with regards to revealing or concealing information, the Torah is guiding us about our responsibility to consider how helpful or harmful certain information may be to the people with whom it is being shared. As Leibowitz points out, the initial concealing of Balaam’s involvement was done to help facilitate the Israelites’ engaging in a process of t’shuvah for the mistakes they made.

May we all be blessed to act with the same intention when we encounter an opportunity to help another make t’shuvah and return closer to G!D.

Shabbat Shalom,
Chaplain Adam