by Rabbi Nussbaum
VOLUME 96 NUMBER 9
July 17, 2020
Tamuz 25, 5780
Candlelighting Time 8:08 PM
The nation was poised to enter into Israel and the tribes of Reuven and Gad approached Moshe with a proposal. They were enriched with flocks of sheep and they were in need of grazing areas. The nation had just defeated the lands of Sichon and Og and their respective countries were a treasure trove of grazing pastures. They wanted to forfeit their portion in Israel and instead receive their portion of land east of the Jordan. Moshe was incensed by their request and proceeded to lambaste them for following the example of the previous generation that had mutinied against going in to Israel and this led to an extended sojourn in the desert. How could they abandon their brothers and not join them in the battle to defeat the Canaanites? They responded in kind that, of course, if they were needed to combat the enemy they were willing and ready. Why did Moshe assume immediately that they had evil intent? Are we not obligated to judge our fellow man favorably until proven otherwise? Furthermore, the Midrash states since they took their portion of land first, they were the first to go in to exile. This is an astonishing insight. After all, the two tribes not only fought side by side with their brothers in the conquest of Israel, but additionally, they did not return home until the entire land of Israel was divided among the other tribes, a total of 14 years!
Malbim and Netziv explain that the level of sanctity east of the Jordan was essentially equivalent to that of mainland Israel. However, Ohr HaChaim points out that there was a fundamental difference between the two areas. The land of Israel was specifically given to the nation to settle in and therefore be close to Hashem. Although the areas of Sichon and Og were captured by the entire nation by the explicit directive of Hashem, still it was not tantamount to Israel proper. Having this in mind, we must wonder why indeed did these tribes opt for a second rate place of dwelling when they could have had the best!
The answer to that question defines Moshe’s harsh response to their request. The Land of Israel is a great place, but, there are also other factors in life to consider, such as making a living. Even though they would have had the blessings of the land of Israel and they certainly would have prospered there as well, the glitter of gold caught their eyes. The Midrash terms them as fools due to this decision. And as the dialogue between Moshe and the tribes continues, this point is clearly born out. They acceded to Moshe’s demand to go in to battle with the rest of the nation and they would build corrals for their sheep and homes for their families. They placed an emphasis upon their material possessions making sure to protect them first. Then they would care for their families. Clearly, their priorities were not well adjusted and Moshe reprimanded them for this. He stressed that first you must arrange housing for your families and then build a place for the sheep. Not only did Moshe accurately detect their passion for money, but they admittedly stated this in their conversation with Moshe.
With this in mind, we can clearly understand the Midrash that they were the first to exile. Israel with all of its internal beauty and holiness did not attract them as did shining currency. And this was their eventual downfall since they promoted the material and physical aspect of one’s life pursuit over the more significant desire to elevate the soul, the neshama, the true essence of the individual. This debased theme to life had long-lasting detrimental effects on their viability in Israel. The attraction of less epochal matters corrupted their thinking and their entire lifestyle. When we invest in an approach to life, we must consider the short and even more so long range potentials of our decision.
A BYTE FOR SHABBOS
The Torah warns us not to admire or support the murderer in any way, shape or form. Encouraging those who rebel against Hashem destroys the very fabric of purity that our nation is based upon. CHOFETZ CHAIM