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Home » Mase'ei, Matot

Matos Masei: Fostering unity

Submitted by on July 4, 2010 – 4:14 amNo Comment | 1,389 views

Midyan

Do you know anyone that gets your goat? You know, the kind of person that irritates you no matter what s/he says. You resolve to control your feelings, but your annoyance boils over and, despite your resolve, your dam bursts through. We all have such triggers and we all know people, whom we trigger. In their presence, we go off the deep end; we feel as if we have lost all emotional control. Fortunately this is not true. We are all capable of self control. It takes some practice and perhaps a little training, but we can each refine our demeanor and teach ourselves to be gentle.

It was not always this way. There was once a terribly contentious tribe that could not live in peace; warriors that picked fights with everyone. So divisive were they that their very name, Midyan, was a derivative of the Hebrew word Madon, contention.
 
This was a people of toxicity simply unknown today. Today we can hardly conceive of a person, let alone a nation, beyond rehabilitation. No one is entirely wicked; we each have a spark of goodness. I venture to say that even Hitler, an evil person if ever one existed, had a spark of humanity that was brought into focus by the, albeit few people or creatures he loved.

Midyan, however, was different. It was like a cancer, a threat to humanity that had to be excised. It could not be cured; it could not be assimilated into society. This is why, shortly before their entry into the Promised Land, G-d commanded our ancestors to make war against Midyan. This nation could not be spared; left alone they would perpetually agitate and provoke; they would forever be a proverbial thorn in humanity’s side.

 Essential Oneness

The planet is a vast ecology teeming with biodiversity. Each species has its own requirements; each life form must fight for survival. In theory the law of the jungle should apply; each organism should fend for itself. Yet each life form is entwined with the other; when we peer beneath the surface we discover the delicate balance of our echo system. No life can survive alone; our very existence depends on others.

The discovery of our interdependence is in fact an acknowledgment of our essential unity or even oneness. Viewed from the surface the planet appears composed of distinct, even polarized, life forms, but when we delve into its inner stream we discover its oneness. This oneness is the basic building block of existence; it is the G-d particle. Despite our diversity, we are the handiwork of a single G-d, Who has craftily hidden His hand, but of Whom evidence can be found in our essential unity.

If this is true in nature; it is surely true in society. We live in a time of unprecedented prosperity. fostering unity - innerstreamWith the rise of affluence came a rise in charitable giving. Our concern for others and our willingness to help has reached incredible proportions. It is easy to be generous when we have enough to be generous with, but what happens when we fall on hard times? How does it affect our charity?

In theory, should disaster strike and should we, G-d forbid, lose everything we own, we would draw back into isolated pockets of family, neighborhood and community.  We might steal from others to feed ourselves and hoard what we had in order to survive. Yet in every tragedy there are saintly souls whose concern for others outweighs their concern for themselves.

What makes these people different? Many would call it their spark of humanity. A religious person would call it the spark of G-d. When it comes right down it we recognize that we are all in this together; one life is just as precious the next; the survival of others is as important as my own. This realization comes to those who believe in a single G-d, Who has created all equally and Whose concern for His creation is all encompassing.

Avenging G-d

This awareness began at Sinai; it was the first time that G-d broadcasted His presence to all of humanity by presenting His Torah, the binary code of creation. Before Sinai nations and tribes were fiercely independent; they interacted primarily in war. (1) After Sinai the realization of our essential unity slowly dawned upon us. Over the next few centuries nations began to form alliances for peace in place of war.

It took much longer for society to acknowledge the essential value of every individual and act accordingly. It began with citizenship and representation in Rome; a tentative step to be sure, but one in the right direction. This was followed by the parliamentary system implemented in Britain, the renaissance and emancipation in Europe and, shortly thereafter, the formation of a nation that recognized the right, endowed by G-d, to the pursuit of liberty, happiness and peace. This was followed by full freedom for slaves and finally, as world empires acknowledged the universal right to self governance, independence for vassal countries and states across the globe.

Today, as we inch closer to the Messianic era, when the presence of G-d will be completely revealed, we are beginning recognize the full extent of our equality and have globalize in many respects. This is a clear indication that we are inching ever closer to that time when humanity will see itself as a singular creation of a Divine creator.

 When our ancestors entered Israel they made the first attempt to form a society that acknowledged and worshipped the one true G-d. Midyan, a nation committed to contention, could not be assimilated into this world view. The only way to succeed was to abolish this tribe and remove the wedge between G-d and creation. (2) It is ironic that a people of peace were required to make war, but this war was commanded by G-d because without it the effort to reveal our essential oneness would never succeed.

So long as Midyan sowed contention the world could not unite and without unity, there could be no awareness of G-d. This is why Moses instructed our ancestors to “avenge G-d in Midyan.” Indeed, the removal of Midyan and its influence removed an irreversible obstacle to the revelation of G-d. (3)

Let’s Unite

This meditation inspires reflection on the harmful effects of disunity. We are now in the three week period leading up to the anniversary of the temple’s destruction. The first Temple was destroyed in punishment of terrible sins such as idolatry and murder; yet it was rebuilt within seventy years. The second temple was destroyed because of contention and disunity among our people and now, nearly two thousand years later, it has yet to be rebuilt. This illustrates the terrible effects of disunity. (4)

Let us resolve to increase in unity and love. Let us let go of past grudges and reignite old friendships. Let us fulfill the commandment to annihilate Midyan by eradicating all traces of contention even against those who get our goat. Let us do our part to usher in the Moshiach, who will rebuild the Temple. (5)

Footnotes

  1. The unity that prevailed among the tower of Babel
    builders was a notable exception. So remarkable was this exception that
    it merited specific mention in the Torah.
  2. Why did G-d instruct the Jews to eradicate every
    trace of the seven nations that lived in Israel when the Jews arrived?
    Why were these nations destroyed? Could they not be salvaged? Sadly, the
    answer is no.
    Jewish mystics taught that there are in all people seven basic traits
    that can be applied in either positive or negative ways. For example the
    first trait, benevolence, can either translate into self indulgence or
    selfless love. Both are forms of benevolence. The same is true of
    severity, the second basic trait. It can translate into anger or
    restraint.
    The very fact that that a Divine energy can translate into a negative
    trait is a symptom of Divine concealment. Before creating the world G-d
    concealed his Divine presence from creation, which created the
    possibility of evil. When the world was first created it vacillated
    between extremes; there were holy people and unholy people. Holy people
    properly distilled their Divine creative energies; unholy people
    compromised their Divine energies.
    Then G-d gave the Torah at Sinai, which helped to reverse the
    concealment that preceded creation; it was the first step in lifting the
    veil and revealing the Divine hand in creation. This was not a one step
    affair; it was an historical journey that began at Sinai and continues
    today. Once the Torah was given the inherent goodness, the Divine spark,
    in all things could be revealed. Before that time, there were people
    and things that were absolutely G-dless and without goodness whatsoever.
    The seven nations that occupied the Holy Land were a sinful bunch. Their
    lifestyle, their souls, their very spiritual makeup personified the
    seven negative traits. These people could not be redeemed. Today we
    don’t know of such things. Today no one is purely evil or holy; we are
    all a mix of both. There are positive and negative elements in us all.
    No one is above reproach and no one is beyond reprieve, but then things
    were different.
    After Sinai, where this revelation of G-d and sublimation of creation
    began the first step was to remove the elements that could not be
    sublimated, which is why our ancestors were commanded to destroy those
    nations.
  3. This is why Jethro, the former priest of Midyan,
    had to acknowledge the superiority of G-d before the Torah could be
    given.
  4. This is especially poignant when we consider the
    vile nature of contention. When we engage in an argument we find
    ingenious ways to justify our position and vilify the other. With this
    attitude the problem is prolonged because neither side is willing to
    take the initiative; each considers itself the injured party and wants
    the other to take the initiative in apology.
  5. This essay is based on a discourse from Likutei
    Torah on this Parshah.
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