Moses replied to the Gadites and the Reubenites, “Are your brothers to go to war while you stay here?” (B’midbar 32:6)
After fleeing oppression,
endless migration and
searching for sanctuary:
the end is in sight.
The quest almost over
yet all is not finished
there remains one more river
you all have to cross.
You want a safe haven –
your brothers have none:
until all are settled
no-one is home.
In a commentary on Parashat Mattot entitled The Wandering People, http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-wandering-people/, Rabbi Elliot R. Kukla invites us to close our eyes for a moment and imagine the one place in the world which conjures up feelings of safety and security. She suggests that most of us will visualize our home – whether that of our childhood or of our adult life, and adds, “Home represents true safety. Home is the beginning and ending of each day’s and each lifetime’s journey.”
The statistics on World Refugee Day (in June) 2015 reported that the number of forcibly displaced refugees worldwide is 59.5 million.
During the past year, conflict and persecution forced an average of 42,500 persons per day to leave their homes and seek protection elsewhere, either within the borders of their countries or in other countries.
Developing countries host over 86% of the world’s refugees, compared to 70% ten years ago.
In 2014, the country hosting the largest number of refugees was Turkey, with 1.59 million refugees. By the end of 2014, Syria had become the world’s top source country of refugees, overtaking Afghanistan, which had held this position for more than three decades. Today, on average, almost one out of every four refugees is Syrian, with 95 per cent located in surrounding countries.
Last year, 51% of refugees were under 18 years old. This is the highest figure for child refugees in more than a decade.
Rabbi Kukla notes, “The story of displacement and the search for a safe haven lies deep within our communal and individual Jewish histories.” He adds, “Much of the Torah is focused around the search for home. This week’s Torah portion, Mattot, begins to bring to a close the book of Numbers, which is wholly concerned with the people’s journey out of slavery in Egypt and the pursuit of a home in the Promised Land.”
We read in Mattot how the people reach the land just over the Jordan River from the Promised Land. The tribes of Reuben and Gad who own much livestock, see that this location is suitable for their needs and want to stop and build their homes on this side of the Jordan. However, when they suggest this to Moses, he argues fiercely, believing that they are only addressing their own welfare. He says they are so close to home and are now deserting their brothers in their struggle to find a home for themselves. Once they hear Moses’ rebuke, these two tribes agree to help the rest of the people and ensure they are safely ensconced, before returning to their own allotments. Rabbi Kukla says, “The message of the Torah is clear. Everyone in the community must have a safe place to be before any of us consider ourselves at home.”
He adds, “In the contemporary world there are myriad people in need of a safe home… There are millions of people who, like the ancient Hebrews, are vulnerable and homeless.
“These numbers represent a global crisis and yet we seldom discuss it. Jews know about wanderings and have a particular ability to speak to the rights of displaced peoples. Three generations of my own family span seven countries and possess nine different native tongues…This story is a typical Jewish family narrative. The story of displacement lies deep within our communal and individual Jewish histories. Narratives of fleeing oppression and wandering in search of home lie at the heart of our most sacred texts, inform our most cherished relationships, and have shaped our individual identities as Jews.
“Jews have a powerful and intimate relationship to migration and the search for home. When we dare to tell our stories within the widest possible global context, we connect our sacred and familial memories of wandering to the ongoing global impact of violence and displacement. We have a unique voice that we can lift up to educate and advocate for the rights of displaced persons everywhere and for fair immigration laws…
“In the coming weeks, as we finish reading the Book of Numbers, may we lift our voices and call out for the right of each and every human being to have a home in the fullest sense of the word, a sanctuary where human dignity can safely unfold.”