A Grain of Sand

"I will multiply you as the stars in heaven and as the sand upon the shore." - Genesis 22:17

"I can see the master's hand in every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand." - Dylan, Every Grain of Sand (on Shot of Love)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Torah Portion: Matot - Killer Torah

Just a short post - it's way too late.

But the news about the arrest of Radovan Karadzic is too good to not share. We thought we had put to its final rest the beastly indulgence in ethnic cleansing with the Shoah and Nuremburg. We were wrong, and the imperative "Never forget" has become a hollow slogan in the shadow of the late-20th and early 21st century horrors. Karadzic's arrest is a blow against wickedness and a small triumph for justice and mercy.

How troubling, then, that this comes while Jews across the world study Parshat Matot, in which the Israelites are commanded to seek revenge upon the people of Midian. Their crime? The Midianite women had tempted the Israelite men into cross-cultural coupling and idolatry. So this week, God's revenge - equated with Israel's revenge - is satisfied with the defeat of these people. The leaders of the attack are admonished by Moses because they failed to kill all of the women.

It helps not at all that traditional apologetics explain that the Midianites were truly evil, stood against hope and truth, represented all that is bad with human nature. In the middle-ages, when these interpretations initially emerged, Jews were powerless and their attempts to understand this parshah spoke to their inability to do violence to any people or polis. They could celebrate these verses or, as is reflected in the literature, be unconcerned with them.

Not now, not in the 21st century. Not in an age in which ethnic cleansing is a bloody, ongoing reality. We can only chip away at the calcified growths of Jewish history covering the light of Torah and try to find understanding in new ways.

A small bit of light: Levi Yitzchak interprets the name of the Torah portion, Matot, from the first sentence of the parshah. Matot means tribes, but he brilliantly rereads this noun as a causative form of the verb [nun-tet-hey] meaning to cause to shift, or incline. He says, "And this is the meaning of matot - for it is possible to shift the attributes of the Holy One from strict judgment to mercy."

That is, with our own acts we can turn the presence of din, with its harsh measures, into rachamim, mercy - and so bring mercy to all of God's people. May it be so.


  1. Response to and Ideas triggered by Rabbi Josh’s blog-onemoregrainofsand.blogspot.com titled Torah Portion: Matot-Killer Torah
    I was so grateful to hear a Jew denounce the beastly indulgences of Radovan Karadzic against the Muslims in Serbia. I feel so spiritually renewed after each Sabbath service each week. I feel so comfortable at Torah Studies and other groups where the leaders allow my excesses in dominating the speech. I am now able to comfortably carry on conversations and point out some of their ignorance about the omniscience and omnipotence of the Lord God Almighty of Israel, while they point my ignorance about certain nuances about the Torah, Bible and other less inspired literary works.
    After reading the Koran which is an excellent book inspired by the Lord God Almighty to Mohammad, I was convinced that Israel had adopted oppression of its enemies, the Muslims, instead of slaughter against them. The Koran speaks of oppression being worse than slaughter. But, with the possibility of salvation and the grace of the Lord God Almighty anyone can overcome this oppression, poverty and depression to regain the happiness and optimism of youth. So ultimately there is more hope for the oppressed than the souls lying asleep in the grave.
    I am rethinking the idea that oppression is worse than slaughter, especially when it involves my life because death of my soul means oblivion for me with no hope or thoughts ever again.

  2. Second reading of Torah Portion Matot Killer Torah brings more appreciation and understanding to what Rabbi Josh said

    After Torah studies on this Parshot Matot, I read what Rabbi Josh wrote with deeper understanding and appreciation for what he said. At first I thought it absurd to think that mere humans could change the Lord God Almighty’s will because of His perfection. But then again since He is perfect and His judgment is perfect then all of us would be condemned for the unforgivable. Those individuals and tribes which were allowed to live because of the compassion of the Israelite going against the word of the Lord God Almighty coming from Moses may have caused much rebellion against the Lord, but if they come to full repentance and change only the Lord knows what good individuals and tribes they may become.
    Jesus followed his own will by going out of the Temple and mingling among the tribes that were not chosen by the Lord God Almighty for His immediate purposes. Thus Jesus also changed the will of the Lord God Almighty to encompass people who were essentially outlaws from God hoping for their change to enable their salvation.
    Even though Jesus prevented immediate destruction of a rebellious world from his Perfect Father, the Lord God Almighty, the Lord God Almighty cursed Jesus and prevented him from falling into presumptuousness and lack of conscience in committing sin thus giving the world someone capable of living enough of a righteous life without evil to be worthy enough of sacrifice for the salvation of the World. So while Jesus changed the will of God for a short time, the Lord God Almighty prevented the self will of Jesus from becoming sinful and wicked to prevent the salvation of the World.