A different Parshah or Chapter of the Torah (Five Books of Moses) is read each week in synagogue. It is a time-honored tradition for scholars to look at a Parshah and find a particular point to highlight. This is called a D’var Torah. What lesson can we learn and apply today from a book that is thousands of years old? Different scholars would/could find different lessons. And then others who might not be scholars, such as you and I, have the opportunity to read both the Chapter and the work of the learned to craft our own opinions and analysis. All of these questions and studies are good and encouraged. The Torah will withstand scrutiny. We grow from the exercise.
A young Rabbi wrote a brilliant D’var Torah about this week’s Parshah Matot-Masei (Numbers 30:2 – 36:13). I am purposely omitting the Rabbi’s name because he would be distressed if he thought anyone would perceive him to be political or choosing sides. And though I don’t want today’s post to be viewed through a partisan lens, that may not be possible in today’s environment.
The young Rabbi noted that this week’s Chapter discussed, in part, the preparation of the Jewish people to conquer and then divide the Promised Land. Two of the tribes asked to have their portions on the east bank of the Jordan instead of west of the river. These two tribes, Reuben and Gad, had lots of livestock and viewed the land suitable. The Bible says that they requested this land “Pens for the flock we shall build here for our livestock, and cities for our small children.”
“Immediately, Moses chastises them and corrects their mistake”, wrote my friend. He cited Moses response, “Build for yourself cities for your small children and pens for your flock”. The lesson to be learned was (and is!) to put the children ahead of the animals and possessions.
The Rabbi’s lesson went on to explore the workaholic who is a business success but a failure as a parent and spouse. And though that is valid and important, my mind flew in a different direction. I thought about the current debate about the opening of our schools.
Should we reopen our schools to in-person instruction? Don’t just tell me Yes or No. Tell me WHY. I believe that we all agree that children need both the education and socialization of the school environment. But are we moving to open the schools now for the benefit of the children or to help the economy? If it is for the children, what is your plan to make schools safe for the children and all of the adults in the school community? If it is for the economy, how do you propose to balance the risks vs. the reward?
There is no national plan for the schools. There are no guidelines and no financing to retrofit the buildings. We are no more organized or prepared now than we were when the schools closed four months ago. We have politicians demanding that the children are returned to the buildings. Many of these same politicians have been diverting the public’s money to for profit online schools that specialized in remote learning. It is reasonable to be skeptical of their motives.
Thousands of years ago we learned how easy it was to confuse our priorities, to forget that our children are more important than our possessions. It is a lesson that we need to learn, as a country, today.
Picture – They Will Return – David L Cunix