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    Tribes & travels

    Holbein’s Tribes of Israel, 16th century

    The Torah readings at this time of the year tell us about two things:
    1. the experience of belonging to the tribes of Israel (Parashat Mattot) and
    2. how the tribes moved from place to place in the wilderness (Parashat Mass’ei) – where they went, where they settled down and for how long, and how they made certain that wherever they were they made appropriate efforts to establish the basic necessities of tribal life: homes, clothing, food and drink, family unity, cultural values, leadership and social discipline.

    Once we are aware of how the tribes managed their affairs in the wilderness can we ask questions about Jewish community movements in more recent times. For instance, we need to investigate how a community established itself after migration from one locale to another, how one stopping-place differed from the previous one, and how the community integrated itself into a new setting.

    Often the migration was made necessary in order to get away from persecution. In this context the Baal Shem Tov quoted the verse, “It is the time of Jacob’s trouble, but he shall be saved from it” (Jer. 30:7).

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