Friday, June 6, 2014

Parashat Be’ha’alotekha - Welcoming the Stranger

            This week’s Torah portion, Be’ha’alotekha, is a full one! The menorah lampposts are built in the Tabernacle, the Priests are further purified, their orders to serve Aaron the high priest in his service to G-d is further explained, silver trumpets are made in case there is ever need for a rallying call in time of war, and marching orders are determined. Then, of course, there’s the small and uninteresting parts where G-d makes it rain poultry, and strikes Miriam with white scales covering her skin.
            In all this mayhem, it may be easy to miss a very short scene, four verses long, between Moses and his father-in-law. Remember, Moses married a Midianite lady while he was in hiding after killing the Egyptian task master. The ancient rabbinic commentators claim that her father had “converted,” and began praying to Adonai even before Moses found his encampment, but in the Torah itself, we have no proof how much Tzipporah and her family blended in with Moses and his people. So when Moses asks his father-in-law to come with them to the Promised Land, it’s a strong statement about inclusivity for that time. The land of Israel in the Bible is promised to the Israelites, not to Midianites. There are even disturbing and problematic parts where G-d commands the Israelites to kill everyone already living there when they enter. So it is significant that Moses near begs the Midianite priest to join them. When he insists on needing to go home to Midian, Moses says, “Please do not leave us… if you come with us, we will extend to you the same bounty that the Lord grants us” (10:31-32).
            It’s a little bit of the inverse of Ruth’s pledge, which was read just this past week for Shavuot. After the husband and sons of Naomi die, she tries to send away her now widowed daughters-in-law. One is quick to take Naomi’s advice and goes home to her family of birth, but Ruth sticks to Naomi’s side, saying, “Where you go, I will go; your people will be my people, and your G-d my G-d.” Ruth is often treated as Judaism’s first convert, and taught as a story about welcoming new people into our communities, but we see in this week’s Torah portion, she is hardly the first. She just might be the most important, since she is the great-grandmother of the great King David, who is thought to be the line from which the Messiah will eventually come. But since Reform Jews believe in creating our own Messianic Age through Tikkun Olam, that all seems unimportant.

            What’s important is that between the Megillah read this past week for Shavuot, and this week’s Torah portion, we see an ancient and living value of treating the “others” in our midst with respect. These acts of acceptance are small forms of Tikkun Olam, and contribute to our own building of the Messianic Age, so we won’t need Ruth’s great great great great great grandchild to come redeem us. We accept newcomers to our communities and families; we  love them; we revere the wisdom they have to teach us, and soon enough, forget that they were ever “others” in the first place. True acceptance means those who seek to be truly blended, as Ruth did, are indeed blended. And those that want to keep their individual and original identity, as Jethro/Reul did, are indeed accepted as friends and family, regardless of their Jewish/Israelite status. May you all find acceptance when you need it, and always be accepting to others in your community. Amen and Shabbat Shalom! 

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