Parashat Matot: ‘We are responsible for one another’

Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg

By Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg

For the past few weeks, many of us have sat glued to the news and checked social media regularly, all in an effort to hear news of the goings on in Israel. Whether we have friends and family who live there or are visiting, or we know no one currently there, most of us feel the pull of the land, the pull of Am Yisrael, because we are connected to one another, no matter where we live. This connection we have with the land and the people of Israel is what makes us, at this time, to so desperately want to act, to do something to help; yet, instead, it is so easy to feel helpless.

It is this emotion, this pull, this tie that we have to one another as Jews, as Am Yisrael, that causes Moses to question the request of the tribes of Gad and Reuben in this week’s parashah, Matot. They ask to settle on the eastern side of the Jordan instead of entering into the land with the rest of tribes. Moses asks them, “Shall your brothers go out to battle while you settle here?” (32:6) Many of us may wonder, what’s the big deal? So they don’t want to settle with everyone else? Does it really matter whether they don’t want to participate in any upcoming battles the others may face when entering the land?

All interesting questions, and perhaps Moses’ worry was not necessarily about any actual battles, but rather had Reuben and Gad considered what it might feel like to sit at home, going about their business, while their fellow Israelites were engaged in war? Would they feel the pull, the emotion and worry over their brethren as they fought in a war? Would they then want to help? Or would they feel helpless?

Althought it is a teaching that came after Moses’ time, it is quite possible he was thinking, “Kol Yisrael arevim zeh la-zeh” — all the people of Israel are responsible for one another. Maybe he understood that no matter where the tribes would choose to settle, they would still be connected to one another, so he questioned them in order to get them to consider it, too. ,While in the end, Gad and Reuben settled on the eastern side, they first helped the rest of Israel settle the land.


As we consider the current crisis in the land of Israel, most of us cannot leave where we are and head immediately there to physically help. However, we still feel responsible for one another and want to do something. So what can we do, when we are so far away? 

Instead of yelling at our televisions and groaning over the news we read that continually misrepresents  Israel, we can share our knowledge and the truth about Israel with others: write letters to the editors, speak with friends and neighbors, tell the real story. 

We can call on our U.S. senators and ask them to follow in the steps of the House of Representatives and pass a resolution acknowledging Israel’s right to defend herself. We also can participate in Stop the Sirens, the larger Jewish community’s communal response to the situation in Israel. 

And, we can pray, we can join our voices with the millions of Jews around the world who feel that pull to the land and to our people, Am Yisrael. When we feel that connection, when we recognize and remember Kol Yisrael arevim zeh la-zeh — all the people of Israel are responsible for one another — then truly, our hope is not lost … to be a free nation, living in peace, in our own land.

Brigitte Rosenberg is Senior Rabbi at United Hebrew Congregation and is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association.