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Monday, July 09, 2007

Parshas Mattos. The Shvatim and Klal Yisrael: Confederacy, United States, or Centralized Government?

The Parshah begins with the word ‘mattos.’ Matteh refers to a tribe, and the roshei hamattos are the princes of the various tribes. There is another word that refers to a tribe, and that is ‘sheivet.’ Interestingly, a shevet and a matteh both have a simple and literal meaning besides ‘tribe,’ and that is ‘stick’ or ‘staff.’ A few years ago, we were shmuessing during my shiur, and I was wondering if there is a similar developed meaning in English. I don’t think ‘office staff’ is the same, because that just means staff in the sense of a support. A certain young man suggested ‘club.’ He clearly has a bright future in crossword puzzles, but unfortunately he was wrong, because it turns out that 'club' is derived from the Icelandic for a group or a knot, ‘clump,’ such as the knot at the end of a club, so it refers to a group, or a clump, of people.

The terms shevet and matteh are appropriate for tribes, because we are told that each tribe had a banner, which had a unique color and picture and slogan, which was carried on a pole. For example, Reuven's background color was red, Yehuda had a picture of a lion, and Zevulun had a picture of a boat. Even now, it says in Shulchan Aruch that a family that has an unusual interest in the sea is most likely descended from Shevet Zevulun.

One thing is certainly evident, and that is that Hashem did not want Bnei Yisroel to melt into an undifferentiated and homogeneous mass. He wanted the Shvotim to retain a sense of difference and even emphasize their individual character traits and unique identities. He wants us not to mimic others, even fine and religious people, but rather to develop the specialized tradition and character that our own family history reflects. This was encouraged by each sheivet having its own flag and its own position in the encampment and travels. We see many examples of the shvotim having their particular identities.

In last weeks parshah, we learned in the story of the Bnos Tzelofchod that a daughter inherits under certain circumstances. Chazal tell us that when the law that a daughter inherits was introduced, an additional law was given along with it. The other law stated that any woman that stands to inherit land must marry within her tribe, because if she were to marry outside the tribe her property would be controlled and, upon her death, inherited and owned by her husband, and Hashem said there was to be no mixing of ownership at the initial settlement of Eretz Yisroel. In other words, Hashem wanted to ensure that when the land was settled the first time, Reuven territory would be exclusively owned by members of the tribe of Reuven, and Shimon likewise, and so on. The law of marrying within the tribe ensured that there would not be any Efrosi owning land in middle of Reuven. This shows how important it was to establish the independence and separation of the tribes, at least in the initial settlement of the land, which, of course, would establish the character of the settlement.
{I later saw in Bahd Kodesh from R Povarsky in Parshas Mattos that he says and brings from the Gri’z in Beis Habechiroh that the main thing is who was there when it was distributed and settled. Who owned it afterward did not matter. So the Mizbei’ach was considered to be in the cheilek of the Toreiph and the Har Habayis and the southeast edge of the mizbei’ach was in the cheilek of Yehuda even though it later was transferred to all of Klal Yisroel.}

Also, we learn in this week’s parshah about the tribes of Gad and Reuven, who clearly had a great deal more sheep and cows than the other shvotim, which again indicates a difference in their perspective and behavior.

Throughout Tanach we see evidence of the social, political, and economic separation of the shvotim, from the battles against Efraim in Shoftim (Shiboles/Siboles) to the story of Pilegesh B’ Giv’oh. In fact, the shvotim were so independent that for extended times during our history we were a loose confederacy of shvotim, not even a federal union. The Shvotim were essentially sovereign, with very little central civil authority. Even when the monarchy began, the shvotim moved in different directions and had to be dealt with independently, as we see in the conflict between Yehuda/Binyomin and the Aseres Hashvotim.

Now that we see how the shvotim were encouraged to seek their individual identities, we have to wonder why is it that the degolim were introduced only during the second year in the Midbor.

R’ Yakov is only after they built the Mishkon and learned to participate in the daily avodoh, only after they created the Super-Degel of achdus in bein odom lamokom through the avodoh of the Mishkan, could they be given their degolim. Before that, the degolim-concept would have set off a process of balkanization that would tear the nation apart.

So we see that it is only after achieving achdus in avodoh bein odom lamokom that we can seek our own path in other matters. How is it that we are zocheh to the building of a mishkon or mikdosh that enables us to participate in this avodoh? To answer this question we must hear what R’ Shimon Schwab says in Parshas Emor.

Rav Schwab remarks that in the parsha that discusses the Yamim Tovim, there is a strange interpolation after the description of the Holiday of Shavu'os of the laws of Leket, Shikcha and Pei'ah, which describe the farmer's obligation to leave part of his produce in his field so that the poor can glean it and survive on what was left. Rav Schwab answers that there really is a yomtov between Shvu’os and Rosh Hashonnoh. It is not Labor Day. It is the Yomtov of Leket Shikchoh and Pe’oh. The other yomim tovim commemorate events that already took place, like Yetzias Mitzrayim or the time of kapporoh. This yomtov is a day that is mesugol for a certain event that hadn’t taken place at the time the Torah was given. It is a phantom yomtov. And we call it Tisho Bo’ov. This day is destined to be the day of the Beis Hamikdosh, but the character of the Yomtov depends on our behavior. If we give LS and P properly, if we demonstrate our sense of oneness with the rest of Klal Yisroel, if a farmer who borrowed money and bought seeds and plowed and planted and fertilized and watered lets a poor man into his field to take the gleanings, that means that he sees him as family, and nobody begrudges a family member in need. If you see Klal Yisroel as your family, then the ninth of Ov will be a holiday of the building of the Beis Hamikdosh. In fact, as Rabbi D Oppenheimer added, this is the meaning of the fifteenth of Ov– it is the Yomtov Achron of the seven day holiday of Tisho Bo’ov. If, however, you are mean and stingy and selfish, and don’t give LS and P, then the ninth of Ov will be a day you commemorate disaster, the churbon habayis. One way or another, the ninth of Ov is the day of the Beis Hamikdosh. Whether it is a joyous holiday or a Mo’ed of disaster depends on you– on us.

So we see that in order to be zocheh to a Beis Hamikdosh, we must have a sense of family with the rest of Bnei Yisroel, an achdus in Bein Odom L’ chaveiro. So there is an order to this formula. Achdus Bein Odom L’chaveiro brings us to hashro’as hashchino, which is the binyon habayis. The binyon habayis allows achdus in Bein Odom Lamokom, which enables us to be granted Degolim, which encourage us to develop and celebrate our differences.

But this formula is a one way street. It goes Achdus/Achdus/Shvotim. It does not work backwards. Only after a person or a tzibbur have a firm grasp on the essence of the achdus of chessed and avodoh do they have the luxury of branching out and enhancing their differences. Unfortunately, we find that many people who are lacking the essence of achdus who not only celebrate, but worship their differences. This is only destructive. We must firmly grasp what joins us, and realize that what we share is far more important than what separates us. When we see a fellow Jew that seems very different than us we have to ask ourselves “does that person share our work of chessed and avodas Hashem?” If, and only if, we can honestly say that the other person is so distant from our traditions that he has no concept of what it means to serve his fellow man and to serve G-d, then we might fairly view him as a stranger. If, however, the other person does share those essential and definitive traits, then we have to remember that we are a nation of many Degolim that express very different traits and behaviors and see him as a member of our family.

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