How close, how similar to us are the ones engaged yet again by waves of violence. The terms ‘them’ and ‘us’ are relative. No collective is a homogenous entity, despite common language and culture and all other anthropological components of human groups.
The title above is not written as a humanistic, modernistic manifesto, I am simply preparing for the reading of the Book of Ruth on the feast of Shavuot, two days from now.
Certainly, I am overwhelmed by confusion and uncertainty, because of the fear, the raging sentiments, and scalding, shocking sights of violence – and yet again I chose to go along with the traditions of the People of Israel.
The book of Ruth, today, in perfect timing. I am given the opportunity to choose to follow the Book of Ruth. The book and the tradition compel me to read and contemplate. Perhaps even draw conclusions from.
Israel and Moab
The complex reality of our world.
- Is enemy blood flowing in my veins??
- Can I learn from the example of ‘the other side’?
Here is what the traditions of the people of Israel teach me.
On the one hand: The people of Israel are instructed to remember, abhor, hate and exclude ‘them’ - the Moabites:
The Ammanite and Moabite shall not enter into the assembly of the Lord, even until the tenth generation he shall not enter into the assembly of the Lord, even for ever (Deutronomy 23: 4)
Why? Because of what the Moabites had done to us:
because they met you not with bread and water by the way, when ye went out of Egypt; and because they hired against thee Balaam the son of Beor of Mesopotamia to curse thee (Deutronomy 23: 5)
Judging by the wrathful prophecies of the prophets of Israel on Moab, the memory of the unceasing violence between them and us leaves hardly any chance for coexistence:
Woe to you, O Moab! The people of Chemosh perish; For your sons have been taken captive, And your daughters captive
How much blood had been shed? Rivers.
A history of attacks and violence, conflict over territory and the right to the land (and obviously, over whose God is the true, just and mightiest one).
Occasionally things seem to calm down a bit, yet waves of violent attacks recur again and again, with one party, then the other, winning victory.
Here is an example of one outbreak of hostilities:
Eglom king of Moab against Israel…13 he gathered to himself all the children of Ammon and Amalec, and went and smote Israel, and took possession of the city of Palm-trees.
Never fear, we ‘gave as good as we got’:
And they smote Moab on that day about ten thousand men, every [lusty] person and every mighty man; and not a man escaped. 30 So Moab was humbled in that day under the hand of Israel
And another violent eruption:
And Saul received the kingdom, … and he fought against all his enemies round about, against Moab…
(Kings I 47)
And another one:
And David smote Moab, and measured them out with lines, having laid them down on the ground: …and Moab became servants to David, yielding tribute.
(Kings II 2)
And yet another one:
And it came to pass, after the death of Achaab, that the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel.
(Kings III 3)
And this time - we really ‘gave them hell’ because they only understand brute force: …
and Israel arose and smote Moab, and they fled from before them; and they went on and smote Moab as they went. 25 And they razed the cities, and cast every man his stone on every good piece [of land] and filled it; and they stopped every well, and cut down every good tree, until they left [only] the stones of the wall cast down; and the slingers compassed [the land], and smote it.
(Kings IV 24-25)
The Mesha Stele and the Moabite territory (source: Wikipedia). I actually miss the annual seminar with Dr. Zvika Tzuck in the land of Moab…
And suddenly, a twist in our story, a shocking, unexpected twist; There is such a thing as good Moabites!
There are Moabites who only want to live in peace, free of war. There are even Moabites willing to fully co-exist, live side by side with us.
Really?? Apparently, yes, so much so that even the biblical censorship did not redact the evidence! In fact, this coming Sunday all Jewish communities in Israel and worldwide shall read the Book of Ruth, recounting a tale of kinship, friendship and loyalty with our most bitter enemy. Good Heavens!
And it came to pass when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land: and a man went from Bethleem Juda to sojourn in the land of Moab … And they took to themselves wives, women of Moab;
(Ruth 1: 1, 4)
The very first verses of the Book of Ruth portray ideals in total contradiction to what we have read so far: caring, an authentic human connection, adherence to our humanity:
And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following thee; for whithersoever thou goest, I will go, and wheresoever thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people [shall be] my people, and thy God my God. 17 And wherever thou diest, I will die, and there will I be buried:
Orpah returning to the land of Moab, while Ruth proceeding to Bethlehem.
William Blake, 18th Cent.