Parashat D'varim

How the Israelite Nation was Raised

Were they masters of their own destiny?

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Learning from Experience

These attributes of strength and courage are essential here. Perhaps the reason the generation of the wilderness had to die out is that they were crippled by paternalism, whether oppressive while slaves in Egypt or well-meaning as God's wanderers in the desert.

If God can learn from the experiences of the past, certainly western intervention in the developing world can learn to do better as well. We must ask ourselves when we pursue global justice, whether we are doing it in a way that empowers or cripples. Like the people of Israel, the people of the Global South have experienced the explicitly exploitative-abusive paternalism of colonialism (Egypt) and the softer paternalism of the well-intentioned but deeply misguided model of top-down global aid (the desert). Effective aid, which means cooperating in the global fight for justice, requires a shift from the failed paternalism of our parashah to the mutual cooperation of the Israelites in the Land.

Knowing Needs & Making Change

To aid effectively we must partner, as AJWS does, with local organizations who know themselves and their needs best. To aid effectively we must acknowledge and be open to the mutual ways in which each partner in this endeavor affects the other, and the wisdom and resources each one has to offer. To aid effectively we must acknowledge the joint responsibility of all parties in this struggle.

We are a people who thrive in a culture of cooperation, interaction, and ownership, who are empowered to take the Divine word and do our best, with our own judgment, independence, and responsibility, to bring that word and the vision it pursues to life. To be effective in the fight against global injustice, we must prize that culture of cooperation and enter the battle together with our partners in the Global South, for collectively we can be like Joshua and the children of Israel, "strong and of good courage."

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Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels

Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels teaches Jewish thought and mysticism at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.