“Shelilat hagola“, the negation of the value of Jewish diaspora existence, was a basic tenet of early Zionist thinkers. Well, not the very earliest ones, perhaps. When it comes to Zionist texts, you can’t really beat the book of Yehoshua . Chapter 22 very clearly raises the voice of ‘shelilat hagola’, and then soundly rejects it.
It never ceases to amaze me to when I encounter Israelis who are genuinely surprised to hear that vibrant Jewish life exists in the Diaspora. They can’t understand why people who want to maintain their connection to Judaism would remain outside Israel. This attitude dates back to the very beginning of the very first Diaspora community, underlying the Jewish people’s interpretation of the altar built by the children of Reuven and Gad on the western side of the Jordan. These tribes obviously understand, reason the Israelis, that they are choosing to leave “God’s portion” and move to “impure lands” divorced from access to God’s presence. But they’re “Golus Jews”, motivated more by convenience than by ideology, so they make their shul as close as possible. By doing so, the tribes believe they are repeating the sin of Pe’or worship. Pe’or, whose worship consists of nothing more demanding than going to the bathroom, is the ultimate God of convenience. Never mind that this convenience compromises national unity by creating another center of worship. Again, these are “Golus Jews,” who, like Achan, put their own needs above those of the nation.
These are the stereotypes and preconceived notions based on which the Jewish people is literally up in arms about the two-and-a-half tribe’s new altar. They’re all uncannily similar to what you can hear today, and they were all wrong. Actually, it was these very attitudes that motivated the building of the altar- that the tribes would decide that not having a portion in the land means not having a portion in God. The altar was built to symbolize that the God of the Israelites is also the God of the Jews of the Diaspora.
This is news to Pinchas and the tribes, but it’s exactly what Yehoshua instructed in the beginning of the chapter. Having fulfilled the promised they made to Moshe, and proven their national commitment, he sends them off to their inheritance with his blessings, and with the reminder that there is no river wide enough to separate them from God’s love.
This blog has been following the 929 project’s daily study of a chapter of Tanach.Learn more at 929.org.il