Mattot

Build towns for your children and sheepfolds for your flocks, but do what you have promised.
- Numbers 32:24

Having vanquished the Midianites, the Israelites must prepare to cross the Jordan into Canaan to settle in the Promised Land. Two tribes, the Reubenites and the Gadites, approach Moses, Eleazar the priest, and the communal leadership with a request to remain in the conquered territory and make it their permanent home. Moses responds: Are your brothers to go to war while you stay here? Why will you turn the minds of the Israelites from crossing into the land that the Lord has given them? (Num. 32:6-7) He reminds them that none of the men of exodus generation except for Caleb and Joshua, who remained loyal to God during the forty years of wandering in the wilderness, are still alive to experience the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses fears that this new generation’s act of disloyalty will have severe consequences for the entire people. The Gadites and Reubenites then promise to serve on the frontlines and not return to their families and flocks until every one of the Israelites is in possession of his portion (Num. 32:18) if Moses will grant their request. He does with a stern warning.

A modern legend begins with a Yemenite woman in Jaffa who received a sacred amulet in her inheritance from her mother, and her mother – from her grandmother. In the family, they guarded the amulet as something sacred and precious that cures and saves from trouble and disaster because it was prepared by Rabbi Shalom Sharabi. The owner of the amulet had only one son and from the moment of his birth, he had worn the amulet day and night. His mother was very pleased that the amulet was always with him protecting him from evil. When he grew up, the son began objecting to always wearing the amulet. He would shout at his mother, “I do not believe in amulets!” Despite all that she said to him, asked him, begged him, he maintained his opposition. From her sadness, the mother became sick and died. A great sorrow began to take hold in the son’s heart for not having followed his mother’s wishes. The regret and pangs of conscience did not let him rest. From then on, he always wore the amulet over his heart. In the War of Independence, when he went out into battle, he was hit by a bullet. But it hit the amulet, and so he was saved from death (IFA6031).

Haya Bar-Itzhak (1992) observes that the amulet symbolizes the mother’s system of values. When her son removes it as an adolescent, it brings them into conflict. Most important, when the younger generation, here represented by the son, does not relate to its parents’ spiritual life, it is as if the older generation has actually died. When the son starts wearing the amulet again, he signals that he accepts his mother’s way of life although he does not share her beliefs. Nonetheless, the amulet protects him during the war as it did when he was a child.

So, too, the Reubenites and Gadites come into conflict with Moses when they reject the inheritance promised to their ancestors that motivated an earlier generation to leave Egypt and kept them traveling through the wilderness under Moses’ leadership. Ultimately, each accommodates the other. The Gadites and Reubenites agree to serve along with the other tribes, though they do not share Moses’ aspirations or beliefs. They settle outside the Land, east of the Jordan.

When does our baking reflect conflict between generations? How might it protect us whether or not we share the beliefs of our parents’ generation?

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