Masey: Drive Out the Old

April 13, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Posted in Masey | Leave a comment

(This blog was first posted on July 4, 2010.)

Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them:  When you are crossing the Jordan into the land of Canaan, you must dispossess everyone dwelling in the land before you, and you must destroy all their carved symbols, and you must destroy all the images of their cast-metal idols, and you must demolish all their high worship-platforms.  You must take possession of the land and you must dwell in it, because I have given the land to you to take possession of it.  (Numbers/Bemidbar 33:51-53)

reshet = to take possession of (land, a city, a house), to inherit; to dispossess, to displace someone from his property, to drive out

This instruction from God to Moses appears in the last Torah portion of the book of Numbers/Bemidbar, Masey (Departures).  The Israelites are camped on the bank of the Jordan River, ready to cross over into the “promised land”—where, unfortunately, other people are already living.  If I take God’s instruction above literally, I feel sorry for the Canaanites, who have lived there for generations.  Surely some of them are righteous people, even if they follow a different religion, yet God wants all of them to be thrown out of the houses that they built and driven off the farms that they planted.

However, the divine instruction above could also be taken as an allegory for how any human beings who have reached the age of reflection can change their own inner lives, their own inner lands.

When you are crossing the Jordan into the land of Canaan—or, when you are crossing the dangerous boundary between your old, habitual, reflexive beliefs and a new way of thinking—

you must dispossess everyone dwelling in the land before you— you must uproot all the established mental habits you have lived by in the land of your mind—

and you must destroy all their carved symbols—and you must recognize the symbols and myths you learned from your parents and teachers, and question them even though they were carved into your childhood thinking—

and you must destroy all the images of their cast-metal idols—and you must discover which of your beliefs are idols set up by your parents or your society, and use the flame of your emotions to melt them down inside you—

and you must demolish all their high worship-platforms—and you must stop assuming that these myths and idols are of high worth, and cease to worship them.

You must take possession of the land and you must dwell in it—You must take conscious responsibility for your own mind, especially your own mental habits and assumptions, and you must live consciously—

because I have given the land to you to take possession of it—because God has given you a mind capable of self-reflection and conscious choice.

God’s instructions about dispossessing the Canaanites continue:

But if you do not dispossess those dwelling in the land before you, then those whom you allow to remain behind will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides; they will hamper you on the land in which you dwell.  And it will be that what I intended to do to them, I will do to you.  (Numbers 33:55-56)

But if you do not dispossess those dwelling in the land before you—But if you do not clear out the mental habits you acquired from other people—

then those whom you allow to remain behind will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides—then your old mental habits will blind you to new opportunities, and prick you with continual pangs of regret;

they will hamper you on the land in which you dwell—your unexamined reactions will make your life more difficult and constricted.

And it will be that what I intended to do to them, I will do to you—And if you do not change your thinking habits yourself, then disasters will drive you out of your mind.

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