Shabbat Service is a weekly bit of Torah-inspired do-gooding, brought to you by Repair the World and our grantee-partner American Jewish World Service (AJWS). Read on to see how these ancient stories can apply today. Seem far fetched? Check it out:
The story: In this week’s parsha (Torah portion), Matot-Masei, the tribes of Reuven and Gad ask Moses if – instead of settling in Canaan with the rest of the Israelites – they can settle east of the Jordan River, where the pasture is perfect for raising their livestock. Moses doesn’t buy it, thinking they’re using farming as an excuse to avoid the battle necessary to conquer Canaan. “Your brothers are going to go to war,” he says, “and you are going to sit here?” Reuven and Gad relent, agreeing to fight in the war if they can then settle where they wish.
The takeaway: This week’s dvar tzedek author, Sigal Samuel, writes that Moses’ perhaps misread Reuven and Gad. “Although the men initially couch their request in terms of livestock, the issue of their children’s safety creeps into their speech. They explain that, while they’re off at war, “our children will dwell in the fortified cities.”
Reuven and Gad knew from experience the devastating effects war can have on children. Their stance was like a biblical take on the famous anti-Vietnam War poster in the 1960s that said, “War is not healthy for children or other living things.” Unfortunately, as Samuel writes, “we too have seen society’s most vulnerable members bear the brunt of war’s tragic consequences. According to UNICEF’s 1996 report, over the preceding decade 2 million children were killed in armed conflict, while 6 million were seriously injured or permanently disabled. This does not include the many children who became refugees, orphans or victims of rape, sexual slavery, disease or malnutrition as the result of war.” Perhaps Reuven and Gad had it right all along…
The “to-do”: Support organizations – like AJWS grantees AJEDI-Ka/Project Enfants Soldats and Friends of Orphans that are doing the vital work of rehabilitating children affected by war, throughout the world.
Read the full Torah commentary, on which this excerpt is based, over at AJWS’ website. And for more great texts, commentary and Jewish learning resources on social justice, check out the On 1 Foot database.