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July 17, 2017 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Mattot- Massei

In this week’s parsha, the tribes of Reuben and Gad ask Moses for land on the other side of the Jordan River from the rest of Israel, because that land is good for sheep-herding.  Moses gets angry and calls them cowards (in so many words).  They respond that they will be happy to fight to conquer the rest of Israel (Numbers 32).

Miller, citing an 18th-c. rabbi, suggests that these tribes had another comeback to Moses’ point.  They actually thought that fighting was unnecessary, because “since God had defeated so many lands for the Jewish people, the conquest of the land of Israel would also be aided by miraculous assistance from God, and their own help would not be required.”  According to this interpretation, Moses actually agrees that Reuben and Gad aren’t necessary for the conquest of the land.  But nevertheless he wants them to fight, because “the rest of the Jewish people would not understand that this [reliance on miracles] had been their intention.  The people would interrupt their lack of willingness to fight as plain fear.”  In other words, the two tribes didn’t really have an improper intention, but their conduct appeared improper to others.  So the broader moral lesson is: avoid the appearance of impropriety.

This lesson seems highly relevant to the political scandals of the last year or two, on both sides of the partisan aisle.  When the Clinton Foundation accepted donations from all sorts of people with political connections and who had interests in U.S. foreign policy, I don’t think there was any corrupt intent involved.  After all, a well-connected global charity is going to get donations from all kinds of rich people.  Nevertheless, I can see why it might appear suspicious, so it didn’t exactly help the Clinton campaign.

Similarly, it may be that the Trump campaign wasn’t trying to fix the election or trade favors with the Russian government (I emphasize the word “may” since I suspect that the special counsel’s investigation might take months or years).  But nevertheless, when a political campaign meets with Russian spies it doesn’t look good.

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