Weekly Torah Commentary – Matot-Masei July 17, 2015

Bamidbar/Numbers 33-36
The Danger of Suspicion

In this week’s Torah reading we learn that two of the tribes, Reuben and Gad, see that the land east of the Jordan is ideally suited as pasture for their large herds and flocks of livestock. Accompanied by half the tribe of Manasseh, they approach Moses and ask to have permission to settle there rather than cross the Jordan. Moses is initially furious at their request. Doing so will demoralize the rest of the people, he protests: “Shall your fellow countrymen go to war while you sit here?” Had they learned nothing from the sin of the spies who, by discouraging the people through their behavior, condemned an entire generation to forty years of wandering in the desert?

The Reubenites and Gadites get the point. They reply that they have no intention to separate themselves from the struggles of their brethren and are fully prepared to accompany them into the promised land and fight alongside them. “We will not return to our homes until every Israelite has received his inheritance.” Moses requires them to declare a public pledge to this effect and grants their request on condition that they fulfill their word. “When the land is conquered before God you may then return, free of any obligation before God and Israel and this land will be yours as your permanent property before God.”

The italicized phrase is the basis for an ethical axiom in Judaism. It is not enough to do what is right in the eyes of God. We are admonished to conduct ourselves in such a way as to be above suspicion. Our behavior and ethics should be above reproach.

All well and good but we know that at times the innocent are accused unjustly. Why?

Because the tendency to judge another is all too common in mankind.

We criticize in others what we do not like about ourselves. Let’s suppose you’re shy and someone in your workplace or class is outgoing and the proverbial ‘life of the party’. Because you would be embarrassed to be the center of attention, you don’t like it when someone else is and you get offended. So you ‘judge’ them as ‘show-off’s’. Perhaps what you really dislike is that they have the freedom to be themselves and for one reason or another, you feel that you don’t. Or somewhere along the line, you’ve decided that there’s something “wrong” with being shy.

We criticize in others what we are unwilling to deal with in ourselves. It’s easier to dislike it “out there” than take the steps to change ourselves. Haven’t you been around someone complaining about another person’s behavior and you think to yourself, “That’s funny, they do the same thing they are finding fault with in their friend!”

We criticize out of envy or jealousy. Do you find yourself resenting other people’s success, rather than being inspired by it? Are you prone to ‘brag’ about being poor, for example, because you resent those who are financially secure?

Most of our judgments towards others are attempts to avoid uncomfortable feelings. Maturity increases as we understand that each person we encounter has something to teach us if we’ll be humble enough to learn.

The sad part about it all is that most of our judgments are false because we presume to know the motive or thought pattern of the person we are judging. The Torah forbids us to do so. We hardly know our own inner workings, let alone have the right to pronounce judgment on others. The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? Jeremiah 17:9 By contrast, Proverbs 16:9 enjoins us: Better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud. Judgment of others is, after all, an act of pride, of ego.

In Tune with Torah this week = The Word of God teaches us to ‘love one another as yourself’. The ‘Golden Rule’ says ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ The spiritually mature chooses humility and compassion towards others, fleeing from a judgmental spirit and thereby, reflecting the image and likeness of the Almighty in whose image we have been created.

Shabbat Shalom

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