We are a tribal people but connected to the Source

Rabbi James Stone Goodman

By Rabbi James Stone Goodman

Matot is the word for tribes in the opening verse. We have another word for tribe: shevet. Matei (singular) and shevet both signify a branch, a staff, part of a tree, how a branch becomes a tribe. I am thinking about this as I stoop to kiss the ground and remember our devotion and respect to Earth as Source.

A staff, a stick, an emblem, a totem, the tribal stick. I am holding it and speaking stories and poetry from storehouse palace Earth.

The tree that is constituted by its branches, the branch that is separated from its tree, the tree of life, as in exile and  separation. From this we also might derive the notion of tribe.

We are a tribal people. We are branches of the tree of life. We are a branch separated from the tree of life. What does it retain or owe to the tree from which it comes?

Soft and moist, the shevet, dried out and inflexible, the matei; also the soul’s journey away from G*d, the exile of the partial from the Whole, Israel from the nations, me from myself. 

Is the soul soft and moist to its divine origins or is it inflexible and brittle? Are we souls dried out and far away from divine moistness, in exile, or do we retain the connection with Source? Are we inflexible to origins, dried out, are we tribes softening to the tree or broken off and brittle from the tree of life?

Turn all matot into shevatim, turn all brittleness to moistness, turn the hard inflexibility of separation into moistness and relation with Source, bring us into relation. Make us moist, turn us all into shevatim, moist particulars of the Whole, divine remnants, a return always assured. 

Be strong, be strong, we will need a double portion of strength on this double portion of Torah. We are stronger when connected, when we are in relation, when we are moist. Amen.  

Rabbi James Stone Goodman serves Central Reform Congregation and is a past president of the St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association, which coordinates the d’var Torah for the Jewish Light.