I don’t know about you, but I feel as though we are reliving our stories in the book of Numbers this year. This book tells the story of the first census of ancestors, the gerrymandering of the land, scouts giving false reports, and a leader so dead set on destroying the Israelites that it takes the miracle of a donkey speaking to its master to actually keep him from doing so.
This week, we see an attack on women’s rights that echoes what we are facing today. After the war with the Moabites was over, God told Moses to take another census. Moses counted only the men and deceased men with surviving sons for the rights of land inheritance. The daughters of Zelophehad named Malah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcha, and Tirza came forward and stated that it was not fair that their family would lose rights to the land because they are not sons. Feeling this unjust, the daughters argued that the laws as they stand will not allow them any land. Moses turns to God, who, being merciful and just, as we read a few weeks ago in Parashat Shlach L’cha, demanded that Moses grant their request. The daughters can inherit land, not just sons.
While it is not a great feminist text, it does show that when the law in Torah unintentionally hurts people, it gets changed. The daughters were really stepping forward to be seen and heard. Their courage sparked a whole host of laws and procedures to be put into place to protect the rights of females in society. I believe this text serves as a metaphor for us – we must have the courage to do the same. The key here is, that Moses the human, carried out the will of God as Moses heard it conveyed to him. The quandary we face today is that many hear the word of God in an entirely different way, and truly believe that carrying out hate, bigotry, and the restriction of women’s fundamental rights is “God’s will.”
I believe many of these people are forgetting to look at the Bible in its entirety. Many of you know I grew up Christian, soon leaving the religion, and then finding my path to Judaism. My family is still Christian, but my brother in particular is on the bandwagon of Christianity which preaches Love, not Hate. He told me that he was recently hired to play at a Baptist Church in Marion, IL (he plays trumpet) and witnessed some of the greatest hate speech, lies, and untruths he had ever heard spewed from anyone who professed to be a member of the clergy. He said the most laughable lie was the pastor claiming that Irving Berlin, a JEWISH immigrant and composer, wrote God Bless America because our nation is a “Christian nation” and was meant to be so.
I felt God urging me strongly to reach out to this pastor with the truth. After introducing myself, my position, and presenting the correct data on Irving Berlin, I went on to describe the many instances in the book of Numbers, where leaders try to destroy people simply because they were different. I believe the root of it is fear. I told him in the email that our “founding fathers” were flawed sinners, just like all of us. They made the grave mistakes of genocide of the true Americans: The Native Americans, only to then capture more innocent victims in Africa and enslave them, which resulted in generation upon generation of hatred, anger, and inequality.
I went on to quote some passages from Christian Scripture that clearly show that this behavior was not what Jesus had in mind. Jesus preached Ahavah Rabbah—Great love. His mission was not to divide us, but to unite us, through that love. He himself was different. Here are those examples below from the New Testament portion of Christian Scripture:
and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation.
For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
I ended by asking him to bring love into his sermons and messages, instead of division and fear, and I challenged him to try to bridge the divide, rather than widen it, by calming the fears of his congregants with the love of Christ and God.
While it took a great deal of time to reach out in this email, I felt that I had to do so, because as we are reminded in the Pirkei Avot 2:16, “It is not up to you to finish the task, but you are not free to avoid it.” While writing that email to him will most definitely not finish the task, I could not avoid the strong voice that was screaming out inside me to start the conversation, and begin the work.
May you have a peaceful Shabbat, and may we all have faith that the work we are doing to start the work will be continued by all the good people around us.