On social media, we are asked to define relationships. As if relationships could be so easily defined!
We have all been there. Asked to define who we are and what we represent to each other. Luckily, we have the option online to mark “It’s complicated.” A generously given opportunity to cop out. If we do think thoroughly though, all of our relationships are indeed complicated. Even the well-defined ones. Not only our romantic ones. We learn early in life that it is not always easy to like those that we love. At least not all the time. Relationships are roller coasters, ups and downs. Because life is that way.
Torah is the same way. Israeli author Meir Shalev makes this point well by pointing out that the first love to appear in the Bible is not romantic, but from a parent towards their child. Abraham towards Isaac. Abraham doesn’t understand what he feels, so God explains to him. He feels love. And now, he must take his loved son to be offered as a sacrifice. Oy! “It’s complicated” is surely a euphemism there.
To love is not always to like.
In our portion this week, the promise’s fulfilment is promised. Moses parses the land and divides it into the tribes. But two of the tribes feel differently about what is promised to them. Reuven and Gad want a different share. They prefer the land that lies on the other side of the Jordan to the land that is promised to the rest of their family, to the Jewish people. They love them, but they prefer to be separate.
Moses is of course not a big fan of the idea. The moment of national birth is a moment that requires national unity. He needs consensus. Everyone must buy in. The land is promised but not yet given. War lies in the horizon. Everyone must fight. He needs Reuven and Gad. “What are you thinking?” is the question that comes to Moses’ mind. “Acheichem yavou la’milchama, ve’atem teshvu po? Your brothers will go to war, and you will just sit here?”
Reuven and Gad don’t mean it this way. No, they explain. They shall fight for their brethren, with their brethren. Only when the whole people are well established into their shares in the Promised Land will they then settle where they wish to settle. They love their brethren, and will fight for them, even if they prefer to eventually settle on the other side.
Argentinian literary masterpiece Martin Fierro declares: “Los hermanos sean unidos porque esa es la ley primera; tengan unión verdadera en cualquier tiempo que sea, porque si entre ellos pelean los devoran los de afuera – May brothers be united, because this is the first law. May their unity be true at all times, because if brothers fight each other, those outside will devour them.”
Our people is not an homogeneous one. Differences of opinions, perspectives and preferences have always been present, for just as long as our unity. We are to love one another even when “it’s complicated”. Perhaps even more so when it is indeed complicated. Because our destiny is one, in our diversity and our unity. May love be abundant in our hearts, our communities and our people. May we be worthy of redemption, so that all tangled knots in our personal and collective lives be massaged and freed.
Beni Yedidyah Wajnberg is rabbi at the United Hebrew Congregation in Singapore.