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Perashat Matot-Masei

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Perashat Matot-Masei

Friday, July 17, 2015 Author: Rabbi Daniel Greenwald

In this week’s perasha, we read about the request made by the two tribes of Reuben and Gad to receive their portion on the eastern side of the Jordan river rather than in Eres Yisrael proper with the rest of the tribes.  Initially, Moshe Rabbenu refuses their request, arguing that it is not fair for them to settle this land while the rest of the tribes have not yet conquered the land that they are to receive west of the Jordan river.  The tribes of Reuben and Gad counter by promising that they will build pens for their animals and cities for their families and then go out to do battle with the rest of their brethren before returning home to their families on the eastern bank of the Jordan.  [Bemidbar 32:16-19]  At the end, Moshe Rabbenu did grant their request; however, as Rashi explains [Bemidbar 32:16], Moshe Rabbenu points out to the leaders of Reuben and Gad that their priorities are confused.  First, he says, you must take care of your families, and only afterwards tend to your animals.

Rabbi A. Brueckheimer observes, that at first glance, the tribes of Reuben and Gad appear to be focused more on their material needs rather than their spiritual ones; worrying more about their sheep and cattle than about their families and their spiritual welfare.  Our sages tell us that the true reason behind the desire of these tribes to reside on the eastern bank of the Jordan was their feeling that they would be better able to serve G-d there due to their affluence; they felt that the eastern bank of the Jordan was better suited as grazing lands for their large flocks than was the western bank.  [Kohelet Rabba 1:32]  Although it seems that this plan was well-motivated, some believe that the realization of it was unfortunately flawed.  While joining together with their brethren to conquer Canaan was indeed essential for the unity of the nation, it is thought that the abandonment of their families was not a wise idea as fathers would be absent from raising their children in the ways of the Torah for 14 years!

Each of us has a different value-system; a notion of what is more important.  Sometimes we may even place a greater value on a missva or an act that will benefit the community over ourselves.   Such was the strategy of the tribes of Reuben and Gad. The danger is that we may fail to properly balance these acts with our other responsibilities and mistakenly give priority to these other activities.

The period of the year in which we now find ourselves, known as Ben HaMessarim, is a time in which we try to foster greater unity among the Jewish people, as it was the lack of such unity which resulted in the destruction of the Second Temple.  Very often we are witness to arguments and senseless hatred stemming from the similar problem of misplaced priorities that the tribes of Reuben and Gad found themselves in.  When people get wrapped up with an incorrect notion – even if it is initially positive – it can lead to the exact opposite goal that they are trying to achieve.  

Through maintaining a proper focus – by setting our priorities straight – we can ensure that what begins as an attempt to maximize our service of G-d ultimately fulfills this objective.

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