Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Parsha Maasos - The Rebellion of the Rancher Lords

As the conquest of Israel is underway, the leaders of Reuven and Gad approach Moshe and ask him to grant them the lands already conquered for grazing (Bamidbar 32),

Moshe, with uncharacteristic fury, accuses them of following in the footsteps of the original ten tribal spies who had discouraged the Jews from entering the land.

"And, behold, ye are risen up in your fathers' stead, a brood of sinful men," Moshe blasted them.

What's behind Moshe's anger and what's the connection to the sin of the spies? Is it merely a casual connection or is there something deeper there?

The motives of Reuven and Gad are obvious, but those of the spies remain unclear.

Why were influential and prominent men so driven to discourage the settlement of Israel?

Rebellions by the Jews in the desert largely fell into two categories. There were mass rebellions over shortages of food and water, or general panic, and attempted coups by the powerful against Moshe.

The revolts of Korach and of the spies both fall into this latter category. Korach wanted power. But what did the spies want?

What do we know about the spies? They were influential men, the Torah describes them as, Roshei Bnei Yisrael, among the heads of Israel, every one a Nasi, a prince. But what made men influential and powerful? The obvious answer is status and wealth. What did wealth men back then? Herds.

The Jews, up until now, had been nomadic herders whose wealth was tied up in their herds.

When Pharaoh tried to take the wealth of the Jews to make certain that they returned, he wanted to keep their herds in Egypt.

When the Jews entered Israel they became, for the first time in their history, farmers, instead of just herders. The vision of the ideal society, as described in Micah 4:4, "they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig-tree", is a farming society where every individual has his own property.

The tribal and familial lottery system was meant to give everyone his own property to work.

Would such a society have been advantageous to the rancher lords whose economic power was based on accumulating large herds with many hands to help manage the herd?

Is this what led the spies to spread negative reports about Israel?

The spies were powerful and influential men. When they saw the land, they also saw a vision of a world in which they were no longer as important and prominent as they once were. And they did their best to mobilize a popular reaction to the conquest of Israel by the very people who might have benefited from it.

The tribes who wanted grazing land seemed to Moshe to be echoing the same original sin, of putting their own economic interests above the good of the nation, dividing the people into tribes, and pitting the wealthy against the poor, and tribe against tribe, as would continue happening during Jewish history. And he warned them that the road that they were going down could destroy the nation.