Photo Credit: Unsplash

{Originally posted to Rabbi Weinberg’s website, The Foundation Stone}

They, the soon to be forgotten, accurately suspected that they would be erased from the memory of the other tribes.

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Rueben, Gad, and part of Menasseh returned home across the Jordan after an absence of fourteen years fulfilling their commitment to Moses made in this week’s portion (Numbers 32:31) and, “When they came near the Jordan, Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Menasseh built a great altar to look upon there by the Jordan (Joshua 22:10).” They wanted to provoke a response: “When Israel heard that they had built the altar, the whole assembly of Israel gathered at Shiloh to go to war against them.” A delegation of the leaders of Israel confronted them, “How could you break faith with the Lord of Israel like this? How could you turn away from God and build yourselves an altar in rebellion against Him? You are turning away from God!”

The two and a half tribes listened to the accusations and realized that the forgetting had begun. The delegation began with accusations, not a question. They were suspect, on the fringes of the nation, despite their many years fulfilling their word to Moses: “We did it for fear that someday your descendants might say to ours, ‘What do you have to do with the God, the Lord of Israel? God has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you! You have no share in God.’
“That is why we said, ‘Let us get ready and build an altar to be a witness between us and you and the generations that follow. Then in the future your descendants will not be able to say to ours, ‘You have no share in God’.”
The delegation responded, “Today we know that God is with us, because you have not been unfaithful to the Lord in this matter.” The message failed. The proper response would have been, “We swear to never forget your share in God.” The people of Israel, “were glad to hear the report and praised God. And they talked no more about going to war against them to devastate the country where Reuben and Gad lived.” They spoke no more of war, but a passive war, waged through forgetting those on the fringes, had already begun.

The two and a half tribes named the monumental altar, “A Witness Between Us-that God is the Lord.” Once they understood that the delegation had failed to acknowledge their concerns, they could use the monument to mark their relationship with God; but it would never work to remind the tribes on the other side of the Jordan that they who lived on the other side were also part of Israel. They were forgotten and eventually forgot. They quickly faded from the mental map of Israel.

We remember our history during these days as we approach the Ninth of Av, the anniversary of the destruction of both the First and Second Temples, among other tragedies associated with this day. We even cry out to God, demanding, “Remember, God, what has happened to us (Lamentations 5:1).” Before listing what we remember and demanding that God remember, we should focus on those on the fringes whom we have forgotten and allowed to forget: the friend who is silently suffering whom we called once and then forgot. The poor person whose story broke our hearts and we then forgot. The child struggling with emotional issues, the one we didn’t know how to help, the one we forgot and allowed to forget his roots. All of those on the fringes; singles, the divorced and the widowed, people searching for their identity, and the people who have difficulty “fitting in.” Those who have faded from our mental maps.

We are commanded to place Tzitzit, fringes, when we wear a four-cornered garment, so we wear four-cornered garments all the time to obligate ourselves to tie the fringes. All corners of the world, everywhere, but especially those on the fringes, “So that you may remember and perform all My commandments and be holy to your Lord (Numbers 15:40).” We cannot possibly perform His commandments or be holy to God when we fail to remember those on the fringes. We constantly wear Tzitzit because monuments fade and dim.

This period of mourning communities lost is the time for building communities that will never be forgotten for their commitment to remember each person.

Chodesh Tov & Shabbat Shalom.

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