TORAH TUESDAYS: PARSHAT MATOT-MASEI
BY HENNIE BLACK
tHE REQUEST BY THE TRIBES OF REUVEN AND GAD TO SETTLE ON THE LAND ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE JORDAN RIVER RATHER THAN IN ISRAEL (ANCIENT CANAAN) DID NOT SIT WELL WITH MOSHE.
WHAT WAS THE REASON FOR MOSHE’S HESITANCY? WHAT DID HE WANT THEM TO UNDERSTAND ABOUT THEIR ROLE AS MEMBERS OF THE 12 TRIBES OF ISRAEL?
This week we will be finishing the fourth book of the Torah with a double parsha – Matot and Masei.
At the end of Matot, the tribes of Reuben and Gad approach Moshe and request to remain on the east side of the Jordan River and not enter into the land of Israel proper. They said, “If it pleases you, let this land be given to your servants as a heritage; do not take us across the Jordan.” They claimed that the pastures were more lush and plentiful and therefore they were better for their cattle to graze on.
Moshe was initially upset at their request saying, “Should your brothers go to war while you live in peace here? Why would you discourage the Jewish nation from crossing into the land which God has given to them? That’s exactly what your ancestors did when I sent them from Kadesh-Barnea to scout the land.”
Moshe was upset that the tribes of Gad and Reuven appear to be rejecting being a part of the Jewish people. They appear to reject unity, a crucial component to the survival of the nation.
Moshe is also worried about a repeat performance of the sin of the spies; if they aren’t to go across, it may cause a ripple effect causing other tribes to not want to go across as well. He is worried about another rebellion.
The root sin that led to the destruction of the temple was the sin of the spies. As the Talmud says, “For crying over nothing, we have been forced to cry over something: the destruction of two temples and a long and often bitter exile.”
Moshe was also bothered by the fact that the tribes of Gad and Reuven, who spent the last 40 years waiting for the moment to enter the land of Israel, are now, on the cusp of finally entering the land, expressing a desire to stay on the other side.
The tribes of Gad and Reuven soften the blow by agreeing to help in the battle for the land of Israel. But again, they make an error in the next part of their request: “Pens for the flock shall we build here for our livestock and cities for our small children.” In mentioning their wish to build pens for their livestock before building cities for the small children, they indicated their inverted priorities, placing more importance on protecting their livestock than on protecting their children.
Moshe responded, “Build for yourselves cities for your small children and pens for your flock…,” indicating what should have been the first order of business—taking care of their children. Moshe’s message: your priority is to build a future for the next generation through education and a system of morals and ethics.
The people of Gad and Reuven understood the subtle message that Moshe conveyed, and they responded that they would do as Moshe told them. They would fight alongside the entire nation and they would prioritize their children before their livestock.
Matot – Masei always coincides with the three-week period of mourning over the destruction of both the first and second temples. During these three weeks, we reflect on our failures and shortcomings that caused this destruction. More importantly, this period of time offers us an opportunity to think about how we are meant to rebuild and repair that which has broken down because of our shortcomings.
In order to rebuild during these three weeks, we must remember and internalize Moshe’s message: in order to ensure our survival as a people, we need foundational values and ethics that serve as the basis of a Jewish home. We are taught “In each generation in which the Temple is not rebuilt, it is as if it was destroyed anew.” We have a lot of work cut out for us: setting our priorities, rebuilding our relationships and friendships, fostering our desire to return to a peaceful land of Israel, and focusing on educating our children to ensure a Jewish future.
Wishing you a Shabbat shalom.