Separation Anxiety

Aug 12th, 2011 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Portion of the Week, Relationships
“Then Moses set aside three cities on the bank of the Jordan toward the rising sun, for a murderer to flee there, who will have killed his fellow without knowledge, but who was not an enemy of his from yesterday and before yesterday.” (Deuteronomy 4:41-42)

Three cities were necessary for two and a half tribes, and only three for the nine and a half tribes on the other side of the Jordan. Moses knew that the separation from the Land across the Jordan would foster a more violent society.

And yet, we find that the two and a half tribes made a special effort to maintain their connection, as we learn from Joshua, Chapter 22:

9 And the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh returned, and departed from the children of Israel out of Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan, to go unto the land of Gilead, to the land of their possession, whereof they were possessed, according to the commandment of the LORD by the hand of Moses. 10 And when they came unto the region about the Jordan, that is in the land of Canaan, the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh built there an altar by the Jordan, a great altar to look upon.

11 And the children of Israel heard say: ‘Behold, the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh have built an altar in the forefront of the land of Canaan, in the region about the Jordan, on the side that pertaineth to the children of Israel.’ 12 And when the children of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the children of Israel gathered themselves together at Shiloh, to go up against them to war. {P}

13 And the children of Israel sent unto the children of Reuben, and to the children of Gad, and to the half-tribe of Manasseh, into the land of Gilead, Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest; 14 and with him ten princes, one prince of a fathers’ house for each of the tribes of Israel; and they were every one of them head of their fathers’ houses among the thousands of Israel. 15 And they came unto the children of Reuben, and to the children of Gad, and to the half-tribe of Manasseh, unto the land of Gilead, and they spoke with them, saying: 16 ‘Thus saith the whole congregation of the LORD: What treachery is this that ye have committed against the God of Israel, to turn away this day from following the LORD, in that ye have builded you an altar, to rebel this day against the LORD? 17 Is the iniquity of Peor too little for us, from which we have not cleansed ourselves unto this day, although there came a plague upon the congregation of the LORD, 18 that ye must turn away this day from following the LORD? and it will be, seeing ye rebel to-day against the LORD, that to-morrow He will be wroth with the whole congregation of Israel. 19 Howbeit, if the land of your possession be unclean, then pass ye over unto the land of the possession of the LORD, wherein the LORD’S tabernacle dwelleth, and take possession among us; but rebel not against the LORD, nor rebel against us, in building you an altar besides the altar of the LORD our God. 20 Did not Achan the son of Zerah commit a trespass concerning the devoted thing, and wrath fell upon all the congregation of Israel? and that man perished not alone in his iniquity.’ {S}

21 Then the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh answered, and spoke unto the heads of the thousands of Israel: 22 ‘God, God, the LORD, God, God, the LORD, He knoweth, and Israel he shall know; if it be in rebellion, or if in treachery against the LORD–save Thou us not this day– 23 that we have built us an altar to turn away from following the LORD; or if to offer thereon burnt-offering or meal-offering, or if to offer sacrifices of peace-offerings thereon, let the LORD Himself require it; 24 and if we have not rather out of anxiety about a matter done this, saying: In time to come your children might speak unto our children, saying: What have ye to do with the LORD, the God of Israel? 25 for the LORD hath made the Jordan a border between us and you, ye children of Reuben and children of Gad; ye have no portion in the LORD; so might your children make our children cease from fearing the LORD. 26 Therefore we said: Let us now prepare to build us an altar, not for burnt-offering, nor for sacrifice; 27 but it shall be a witness between us and you, and between our generations after us, that we may do the service of the LORD before Him with our burnt-offerings, and with our sacrifices, and with our peace-offerings; that your children may not say to our children in time to come: Ye have no portion in the LORD. 28 Therefore said we: It shall be, when they so say to us or to our generations in time to come, that we shall say: Behold the pattern of the altar of the LORD, which our fathers made, not for burnt-offering, nor for sacrifice; but it is a witness between us and you. 29 Far be it from us that we should rebel against the LORD, and turn away this day from following the LORD, to build an altar for burnt-offering, for meal-offering, or for sacrifice, besides the altar of the LORD our God that is before His tabernacle.’ {P}

Unfortunately, all their efforts came to naught. Reuben, Gad, and half of Menashe, were the first tribes to be exiled and lose their connection to the Land and the nation. The separation that began when they chose to settle on the East bank of the Jordan, soon developed into a chasm. Their society did become more violent. The more violent society also had far more unintentional murders.

How interesting that Moshe chose a Mitzvah of separation, the Cities of Refuge, in which a murderer is separated from society, to point out the risks that Reuben and Gad were taking by choosing to settle on the other side of the Jordan! It is even more interesting that we take pride in being called, “Ivrim,” People from the other side, as in “Avraham HaIvri.”

The unintentional murderer is accepted with open arms into a nurturing community that will care for all his needs, physical, emotional and spiritual. He is not separated from others to live in his own world, but to relearn how to live as part of a healthy community. He is separated into a world of togetherness.

The two and a half tribes separated themselves from the people who were already ‘Ivrim,’ separate. They focused their efforts on remembering Jerusalem, not on building a community of togetherness with the other tribes, or even between themselves.

A connection with Jerusalem absent a connection with the people of Jerusalem, will soon disappear.

Whenever we make an effort to be ‘Ivrim,’ to separate, we must expend an even greater effort to unify with others who make a similar choice. We cannot afford a separtion beyond a separation. We begin to define ourselves by being different, and we end up standing alone.

Their altar was not the answer. It didn’t work. They should have paid attention to Moshe’s warnings.

Do we?

Author Info:
Learn & discover the Divine prophecies with Rabbi Simcha Weinberg from the holy Torah, Jewish Law, Mysticism, Kabbalah and Jewish Prophecies. The Foundation Stone is the ultimate resource for Jews, Judaism, Jewish Education, Jewish Spirituality & the holy Torah.

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