God spoke to Moshe on the plains of Moab near the Jordan, and said: speak to the children of Israel and tell them: when you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, you will displace all who dwell in the land… and if you do not, they will be as thorns in your eyes, they will wound your sides…and I will drive you out of the land instead of them. –Numbers 33:55-56
There are those who hold that this week’s Torah portion is justification for establishing Jewish sovereignty over “Greater Israel.” Are our only options either to accept that interpretation, or to disregard these verses altogether?
The whole post is well worth reading, but I was particularly taken with her expansive reading of the passage:
If you choose to dispossess the inhabitants of the land, then you’d better kill or displace all of them — otherwise you’re in for a world of reciprocal suffering, a spiral of violence which will enmesh generation after generation in hatred and bloodshed. But maybe someday, when humanity has evolved beyond this kind of tribalism, you’ll reach the possibility of treating one another as fellow human beings despite your religious and cultural differences. That’s the path to wholeness and peace, and if you don’t seek it, you’ll be driven out of the land yourselves.
That makes a lot of sense to me — reading the passage as a description of how things are, not how they are meant to be. That won’t satisfy everyone, of course. She adds
Rabbi Arthur Segal notes in a d’var Torah on Matot-Masei that this week’s portion contains instructions about the “cities of refuge” to which accidental murderers could flee in order to prevent the vicious cycle of blood feuds. He points out that we can come away from this week’s Torah portion either “remembering to do genocide to our enemies,” or choosing to relinquish vengeance. I believe I know which option I would rather pursue.
Amen to that.