In this week’s Torah portion Mattot (Num. 30:2-32:42) representatives of the tribes of Reuben and Gad and of the half-tribe of Manassah come to Moses to make a request. They are raisers of cattle and they like the looks of the land east of the Jordan River which God has helped the people to conquer, and they want, once the land that God has promised them has been won, to come back to settle there, east of the bounds of the Promised Land. Moses resists, but when they agree that they will take a full part in the conquest of the land with the other Israelites, and only after the land is secured will return across the Jordan to their chosen home, he agrees.
In modern Israel, there is a term, “chutz la’aretz”, literally, “out of the land”. When Israelis travel, they are chutz la’aretz. It doesn’t matter if they are gone for a week or for two years. It doesn’t matter if they are in America or in India or in Antarctica. Either you are in the land, or you are out of it.
It is apparent from this Torah portion that from the very beginning, even before they had left the wilderness, some Israelites wanted to be in the land, and some did not. Today, some Jews feel compelled to live in the land of Israel, the only Jewish state in the modern world. Some Jews have fled to Israel not because they want to be there, but to escape discrimination and oppression in the places from which they came. And some of us support Israel and deeply feel its pains and its triumphs, but for our own reasons choose to live chutz la’aretz. At times like these, when Israel is experiencing danger, fear and the moral complexities of fighting an enemy who does not protect its own citizens, it can feel lonely to be out of the land. But we can take the example of the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manassah. You don’t have to live in the land to support it.