D’var Torah – Matot-Masei

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“We” Before “Me”
By Rabbi Alex Freedman

“Who is rich? One who is happy with what he has.”  – Ben Zoma, Avot 4:1

Alex Freedman (1)While at camp, Ramahniks don’t have a lot they can call their own; they are limited by what they can stuff into duffel bags and shlep themselves (or coax a strong friend or sibling).  By contrast, at home kids may have their own spacious bedrooms and myriad books, toys, and clothes.  In place of personal things and spaces, camp emphasizes the collective.  “Our cabin, our porch, our Hadar Ochel, etc.”  This adjustment is not always easy for newcomers, but it is important a lesson as there is to be found in any Jewish text.  Like the Siddur and our Parsha.

One of the enduring takeaways of the prayer book is the emphasis on the group before the individual.  Open any page and you are likely to see “We” and “Our.”  The Amidah begins “Praised are You Hashem, G-d, our G-d and G-d of our ancestors.”  Even when we are alone and make any blessing at all, we use the word Eloheinu, “Our G-d.”  To be a Jew is to never feel alone even when we are by ourselves.  To put the “We” before the “Me.”

American culture makes this difficult. So does human nature.  In Parshat Matot, the tribes of Reuven and Gad ask Moses for the land on the Eastern side of the Jordan River instead of the Western side with the rest of the Israelites.  They say, “We’ll build a sheep pen for our flocks and towns for our children…”(Nu. 32:16).  Notice that they care more about their wealth than their kids because of who they name first.  Moses corrects this by reversing the order in his response: “Build towns for your children and then a sheep pen for your flocks” (ibid. v. 24).

One thing that bothers Moses about their request is they value things (sheep) over people (their children).  They have it backward.  People feel satisfied – rich, even – not only because of what they have, but who they have.  Ramahniks internalize this because they can’t bring up many things with which to spend time.  In their place are relationships with friends and counselors that take root in the summer and bloom over a lifetime.