Voices of WRJ: Parashat Matot
by Rozan Anderson
This week’s parashah, Matot (Numbers 30:2-32:42), continues the story of Moses and the people as they near the end of 40 years in the desert, on the “eve” of entering the Promised Land from the east side of the Jordan River.
The central themes revolve around the making, keeping, breaking, annulment, and alteration of vows or obligations to God, ourselves, and others.
Moses is tested in his final days as a leader, as he instructs the people to wage war against the Midianites. The troops successfully conquer the land, killing the Midianite men, and taking all the usual spoils. Notably, upon returning to Moses, they find that he is upset to see the spared women and children. Moses compromises and orders all but the virgin females to be killed. Then, the strategy for dividing the spoils of war, virgins included, is laid out, including mrules for setting up a just and equitable society.
Finally, two of the tribes make a request to stay put on the east side of the Jordan, seeing that this is a perfect location for their cattle. At first, Moses is outraged, citing the hard work of the previous generation in leaving Egypt and persevering for so many years. How dare they be so selfish, this close to the goal! How dare they not fight alongside their brothers for the Promised Land! How dare they not honor their obligations!
Once again, Moses forges a compromise: these tribes may settle the east side of the Jordan, as long as the men are willing to serve as shock troops in helping to secure the Promised Land. After that, these tribes and half of another will be able to go back east, rejoining their families and livestock. All agree.
So, we see that ideas and promises, even those grand and ingrained, may require adjustments over time, with increased knowledge and experience. We see that leaders can help define what’s important and build consensus—which obligations should be made and honored and which may be reworked for the benefit of as many as possible.
What kind of world do we want? How can we work together to create our vision? How may we be flexible through the years in recognizing both the changing needs of individuals, as well as those of our greater communities?
WRJ has been leading our people and others in the pursuit of justice and richer communities for more than 100 years. We’ve needed to examine and continually hone who we are as an organization throughout this time. We have grown stronger together and, undoubtedly, we continue to evolve in our next century!
Now we are in mid-summer. In many of our congregations and WRJ Districts, it may seem that our sisterhoodsare on vacation. There may not be as much programming and activity visible at this time of year. You can bet, though, that in the background, plenty is happening, as many of our leaders transition to new roles, prepare budgets, and get set for the start of a new year.
Particularly exciting for me is all the planning for our upcoming WRJ District conventions this fall and the WRJ Fried Leadership Conference in January. What great opportunities for our rising and seasoned leaders to continue to develop leadership skills, with workshops in such areas as visioning and conflict resolution! What great places for us to share information about all the resources that WRJ helps to provide, along with news of our latest advocacy efforts!
I will be at the WRJ Midwest District Convention, as well as the WRJ Fried Leadership Conference. I hope to see you there, too!
In the meantime, please enjoy the summer and time available to plan ahead a bit. While we may not be waging war and dividing up the sheep and cattle, we always have the opportunity to help make our world a better place.
Rozan Anderson is a member of the WRJ Board and Executive Committee. She is also First Vice President of her congregration, Temple Beth El in Madison, WI, and a recent past president of Temple Beth El Sisterhood.