Warning: Heavy handed Zionist sermonizing follows. Not for the weak-kneed.
We arrived at the Kotel plaza the other day, my daughter and I, right as the repetition of the Musaf prayer began. Surrounded by tens of thousands of worshippers, we heard the chazzan sing “Bring our dispersed people from amongst the non-Jews, and our scattered ones gather together from the far reaches of the earth.” I looked around at Jews of all ages, shapes, sizes, and colors filling the plaza to capacity.
“Scattered ones gathered together.” Check. Well done, God.
Well, not done, piped up a second voice in my head. There are still plenty of Jews scattered all over the earth.
True, first voice replied. But you can’t very well blame God for that; all the gates closed for thousands of years have been opened. Petitions for their ingathering need to addressed directly to the dispersed.
In chapter 18, Yehoshua levels harsh criticism at the Jewish people which seems completely unwarranted. After spending the last four chapters detailing the inheritance of the tribes of Yehuda and Yosef, there remain seven tribes which have still not received their portion of the land of Israel. You would expect chapter 18 to continue directly with this work. Instead, Yehoshua accuses the people of laziness. “For how long will you be lax in inheriting the land?” (18:3). “But Yehoshua,” you can hear them responding. “We’re just waiting for you to tell us where to go!” Why does Yehoshua do this for the tribes of Yehuda, Ephraim, and Menashe, and not for the others?
What’s unique about these 2.5 tribes, which they have in common with the 2.5 tribes who received their inheritance on the eastern side of the Jordan, is that they’ve all done something positive as a tribe to gain their portion of the land. Kalev, of Yehuda, along with Yehoshua, of Ephraim, were the only two spies whose mission was a step towards, rather than away from, inheriting the land. And half of Menashe had already gone to war and received their portion. The other tribes have just been waiting. Praying, probably. True, they’ve gone to war as part of the Jewish national army. But apparently, piggybacking on the accomplishments of the nation is insufficient for the tribe. To receive your tribal portion, you need to do something. “Rise up and walk the land,” Yehoshua says. It’s only a symbolic action, because everything will ultimately be apportioned by Divine lottery in any case. Nevertheless, without this minimal step of hishtadlut, human efforts, the work of inheriting the land cannot continue.
Yehoshua’s words resonate today, when again the land lies ready and waiting for its children.
“For how long will you be lax in inheriting the land God has given you?”
Stop praying so much. Stop waiting. “Rise up and walk the land!”
This is a blog of short reflections on the 929 project’s daily chapter of Tanach. It’s not usually so heavy-handed. Not an apology, just a fact. Sukkotbrought it out in me. What’s 929? Learn more about it at 929.org.il.