What does it mean to be a part of a community? Specifically, what does it mean to be part of the nation of Israel? This week's Torah reading seeks to answer this crucial question. Our parsha tells the story of Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Menashe. Sichon and Og, two Canaanite kings ruling on the eastern bank of the Jordan River, refuse to let the Children of Israel pass through their land. As a result, when the Jews must pass through on the way to the Land of Israel, Sichon and Og attack and are defeated and conquered. Immediately afterwards, the tribes of Reuven and Gad come to Moshe and ask him to take that land. They tell him that since they have many flocks, it is better for them to stay in this land with its broad pastureland than to cross the river into the Land of Israel with its mountains and valleys.
Moshe is immediately suspicious of the plans of Gad and Reuven. He asks them: "Will your brothers go to war while you stay here?" Moshe's conception of being a member of the Nation of Israel is that you carry your share of the burden. To be a Jew means to be a part of a collective and to see that collective's needs as your own. Such a condition is eventually placed on the children of Gad and Reuven inheriting the eastern bank of the Jordan River instead of crossing. They must first help their brothers conquer the land of Israel on the Western bank. Even more, they must serve in the vanguard of the army. The soldiers from Gad and Reuven seem to understand this. They repeatedly confirm, both to Moshe and Yehoshua, that they stand ready to show that even though they will live further away from the centre of the people of Israel, they are still a part of the nation.
Today this fundamental insight continues to hold. To be a member of the Jewish people is not merely to identify proudly as a Jew, although that is essential. It also includes serving the Jewish people. There are two ways this can (and must) be done. The first is to take an active part in the community. Attend services, help out, and make a difference. The second is to stand with the State of Israel and support it whenever necessary (and donate if possible). By doing these two things, we can show that we hear the cry of Reuven and Gad, even after almost four millennia.