How do we define space? Often is is easiest to go and pull out a map. Pictures just work in ways that words do not. See below at this map of the wonderful state of Wyoming.
But how might you define this space without a picture? Well, it is square landmass in the center of the United States of America. That is pretty accurate, but how would do you this for another state (and do not pick Colorado)? It is very hard to define these spaces with just words.
But, alas this is the project in Matot Masai, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Command the children of Israel, and say unto them: When you come into the land of Canaan, this shall be the land that shall fall to you for an inheritance, even the land of Canaan according to the borders thereof. Thus your south side shall be from the wilderness of Zin close by the side of Edom, and your south border shall begin at the end of the Salt Sea eastward; and your border shall turn about southward of the ascent of Akrabbim, and pass along to Zin; and the goings out thereof shall be southward of Kadesh-barnea; and it shall go forth to Hazar-addar, and pass along to Azmon; and the border shall turn about from Azmon unto the Brook of Egypt, and the goings out thereof shall be at the Sea. And for the western border, you shall have the Great Sea for a border; this shall be your west border. And this shall be your north border: from the Great Sea you shall mark out your line unto mount Hor; from mount Hor you shall mark out a line unto the entrance to Hamath; and the goings out of the border shall be at Zedad; and the border shall go forth to Ziphron, and the goings out thereof shall be at Hazar-enan; this shall be your north border. And you shall mark out your line for the east border from Hazar-enan to Shepham; and the border shall go down from Shepham to Riblah, on the east side of Ain; and the border shall go down, and shall strike upon the slope of the sea of Chinnereth eastward; and the border shall go down to the Jordan, and the goings out thereof shall be at the Salt Sea; this shall be your land according to the borders thereof round about.’ (Numbers 34:1-12)
There are no straight lines. Without saying anything about the current geo-political issues in Israel, I can say that the Torah here is being simple without being simplistic. The biblical land of Israel is not Wyoming.This posses an interesting model as to how we define things that are complex which we might not have seen.
In light of SCOTUS’s decision to guarantees the right to same-sex marriage I thought it would be appropriate to revisit a post from a 4 years ago in discussion of Matot Masai, our Torah portion. Even if same-sex marriage is not sanctioned by Halacha, winning the civil right to marry represents a human rights victory. It saddens me to see religious groups either going on the attack or recusing themselves from the discussion. Same-sex marriage is a great opportunity for the religious establishment to redefine the nature of marriage.
Why do they need to redefine marriage you ask? Well, simply put, marriage is not working. If current trends continue 40% or possibly even 50% of marriages will end in divorce. That is a staggering rate. Instead of defining it by excluding people, we need to enjoin people into a conversation of joining together for a the creation of a household build on common values. The institution of marriage is far too complex to make believe that it can be mapped out as easily as the straight borders of Wyoming. Traditional forms of religion can live in their self imposed exile or join in and offer their wisdom.
I am confident that we all have a lot to learn about the contours of creating successful life long relationships. Life-long partnership needs to move beyond the infantile belief that is just about creating babies ( yes I am in the hospital right now). It might not be a simple box, but can we picture a more mature understanding of life-long commitment?