Some years back, I wrote in praise of Moshe’s ability to “punt” in a difficult situation, as he did in dealing with the Gadites, Reubenites and others who asked to settle in the land east of the Jordan which they believed was good land for raising their flocks. (Their assumption being it was better land than G”d was bringing them to across the Jordan remains a puzzling piece of lack of faith, and no less strange is Moshe’s willingness to give-in to their request with certain conditions.)
As I read and re-read this parasha, I am struck by how unfamiliar I am with this Moses. He is a warrior-leader, calling for his soldiers to be brutal. Not that he had much choice, as it was G”d’s instruction to “avenge the Israelite people on the Midianites” (JPS Numbers 31:1a.) I think a clue as to why this is a somewhat different Moses can be found in the second half of the verse, “then you shall be gathered to your kin.” (JPS, Numbers 31:1b)
What happened to the Moses who responded to G”d “who, me?” Has Moshe been so worn down over the years that he no longer cares to argue with G”d (though later on as he approaches his imminent death Moses does put up a bit of a fuss.)
Has Moses seen so much carnage that he has been numbed by it? He’s certainly seen enough rebelliousness by the Israelites to be numbed by it-and this perhaps helps to explain his conciliatory attitude in dealing with the Gadites and Reubenites.
Let’s face it. You deal with enough crap, you quickly tire of dealing with it. Moshe is definitely wearing thin around the edges.
Frustration and over-exposure to things is dangerous and can lead to all sorts of trouble. Eventually, the way we deal with frustration, impatience, and over-exposure can come back to bite us in the ass.
I may be stretching things a bit to make my point, but I saw something this morning that I think ties in to all this. On my way from the subway station to the public school where we meet the day camp bus each morning, I see lots of parents (or nannies-after all, this is Greenwich Village) escorting children to and fro. Very often, I see them crossing against the light, or in the middle of the block. Now this, in and of itself, is not unusual. New Yorkers do it all the time. However, I think this illustrates how our frustration and impatience lead us into bad habits. As an adult, I certainly engage in the practice of jaywalking. As a latch-key kid (though the term didn’t exist when I was a kid-we were just normal NYC kids who two working parents who walked to and from school on their own each day, and remained at home until the folks returned) I’m sure I could have quickly learned the habit. Yet even today, I am tinged with guilt whenever I jaywalk. The reason: I know my parents would have never let us jaywalk when we were together as a family. They taught us to obey the traffic signals, the walk/don’t walk signs, the crossing guards, etc. To this day friends and others make fun of me for being such a law abiding citizen. I don’t look to cheat on my taxes, I generally don’t find ways to skirt around laws, and when I do, or help others do it, I feel remorse. This is, I believe, as it should be. Does my honesty cost me more, in time, effort, and financially? Sure? Do I resent those who flaunt rules and get away with it? Yes. (I am reminded at this time of seeing many, many church-owned vans driving around New York City-almost all of them with out of state plates despite clearly having names of churches within NYC painted on them. Dina d’malkhuta dina is as applicable for churches as it is synagogues.)
When I moved back to NYC a while back, I dutifully got a NY State driver’s license and registered and titled my car within the 30 day limit. Shortly after, my car was ticketed for failing to have an inspection sticker (by an either ignorant or lazy public servant who either didn’t know that NYS recognizes unexpired out-of-state inspections on vehicles moved into the state for either a year or the expiration of the out-of-state inspection, and also probably didn’t know that Massachusetts inspection stickers are on the passenger side of the windshield, unlike NYS.) I am fighting the ticket of course, but friends and others have ragged me noting the “thanks” I got for being such a dutiful citizen. They suspect if I had flaunted the 30-day rule I would likely get away with it for quite a while.
Let them rag on me. I feel good about being a good citizen. (To make a tenuous, at best, connection to the parasha, a citizen’s duty to be lawful is not unlike taking an oath, and this weeks parsha reminds us that we should keep our oaths (while offering us ways to deal with the reality that we sometimes promise what we can’t deliver.)
In some ways, I see Moshe’s acquiescence to the Gadites and Reubenites like the parent or nanny who teaches the child to jaywalk. He gave in to the frustration, the impatience.
While life continually proves me wrong, I continue to hold to the idea that slow and steady wins the race, honesty is the best policy, laws are meant to be followed and not generally observed only when convenient (yes, I know, you are welcome to take me to task for how miserably I fail in that regard when it comes to halakha.) I’m like that prophet I’ve mentioned before that Elie Wiesel spoke of – I no longer act as I do because I think I can change others, but rather so I don’t become like them. Don’t teach your kids that jaywalking is OK. Don’t become like them. If I were brave, I might say “don’t become like Moses” but I think that’s carrying things a bit too far. On balance, Moses is someone to emulate. So let’s stick with “don’t become like…them.”
©2011 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some other musings on this parasha:
Matot-Masei 5770 – Treasure Trove of Trouble
Masei 5768 – Accidents Matter
Matot 5768/5765-Even Moshe Rabbeinu Had to Punt
Matot-Masei 5766 – First Fruit
Matot-Masey 5764-Putting the Kids Before the Kids
Matot–Masey 5763-Over the Top
Matot–Masey 5762–The Rebel’s Complaint and Promises, Promises