Parshiyot Matos/Masei 5778: What Else Troubles Moshe About Shevatim Reuven and Gad?

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Parshiyot Matos/Masei 5778: What Else Troubles Moshe About Shevatim Reuven and Gad?

by, Moshe Burt

With Bilaam’s abortive attempts to curse the B’nei Yisrael and subsequent plot which led to the men of B’nei Yisrael partaking in the Midianite/Moabite bazaar and the bizarre mode of avodah zora: the Ba’al Peor, which in turn led to the cohabitation of Zimri and Kozbi, B’nei Yisrael stood a watershed, a rock-bottom and things couldn’t have gotten much worse. There was only one way for B’nai Yisrael to go from there — Up!

Our twin-bill Parshiyot Matos/Masei relates the events of the legion of Am Yisrael going to fight Hashem’s wars against the kings of Midian and the evil Bila’am, the allocation and distribution of the spoils of victorious battle, preparations for B’nei Yisrael to enter Eretz Yisrael, with the battles that will ensue upon entry, and delineation of each Shevet’s (Tribe’s) portion in the Land as well as designation the cities of refuge. There is also a review of the liberation from Mitzriyim, the crossing of the Yam Suf (the Reed Sea) and B’nei Yisrael’s travels in Bamidbar.

Our Parshiyot also indicate B’nai Yisrael’s belated unequivocal acceptance of Moshe as their Divinely Anointed Leader as well as expressing the ideal of a Jew’s love of, dedication to and connection with Eretz Yisrael.

Torah relates both Moshe’s instructions and describes the legion going off to war, winning and the extent of the spoils:

“Moshe spoke to the people, saying, ‘Arm men from among yourselves for the legion that they may be against Midian to inflict Hashem’s vengeance against Midian….'” (Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 31, posuk 3)

“Moshe sent them… and Pinchas ben Elazar the Kohen… and the sacred vessels and the trumpets for sounding in his hand. They massed against Midian, as Hashem had commanded Moshe, and killed every male. They killed… the five kings on Midian; and Bila’am son of Beor they slew with the sword. The B’nei Yisrael took captive the women of Midian and their young children; and all their cattle and flocks and all their wealth they took as spoils.” (Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 31, posukim 6-9)

We learn that upon the legion’s return from battle, Moshe expressed his displeasure with his commanders regarding certain captives:

“Moshe was angry with the commanders of the army… Moshe said to them, ‘Did you let every female live?

Behold — they caused the B’nei Yisrael, by the word of Bila’am, to commit betrayal against Hashem regarding the matter of Peor, and the plague occurred in the assembly of Hashem. So now, kill every male among the young children, and every woman fit to know a man by lying with a male, you shall kill. But all the young children among the women who have not known lying with a male, you may keep alive for yourselves.'” Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 31, posukim 14-19)

In our Parsha, Sh’vatim Gad and Reuven approached Moshe Rabbeinu regarding their desire to graze their flocks and settle their families on the East side of the Yarden. To this, Moshe Rabbeinu replied, “Shall your brothers go off to war, and shall you sit here?” (Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 32, posuk 6)

Moshe was quite angry at the two Sh’vatim. He was concerned lest Gad and Reuven would avoid taking part in the wars for Eretz Yisrael, that other Sh’vatim might follow suit and B’nai Yisrael might be condemned to wandering in the desert another 40 years. (per Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 32, posukim 6-15)

There are those commentators who hold that the hearts of Gad and Reuven were in the right place and that they had every intention, of their own volition, of taking part in the wars and, in fact, preceding the rest of B’nai Israel into battle.

There were other commentators who viewed the desire of Shevatim Gad and Reuven to settle on the East side of the Yarden as representing greed, a secular approach to Eretz Yisrael and a tendency toward separatism vs. communal responsibility.

But it was not just concern that Shevatim Gad and Reuven might sit-out the fight for Eretz Yisrael which troubled Moshe. Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, in his sefer “Unlocking The Torah Text,” Sefer Bamidbar (pages 315, 317-318) discusses what could be viewed as Shevatim Gad’s and Reuven’s missed opportunity to settle in the land with their brethren, opting for settling their families on the East side of the Yarden. R’ Goldin sees Shevatim Gad’s and Reuven’s desires as foretelling patterns in our times:

As the State of Israel has matured, ….as the drama of Israel’s birth and early years has receded in time, new generations of Israelis have emerged who do not automatically share the idealism of their parents and grandparents…. Influenced by the influence of post-Zionist ideology, many… young Israelis… question the need for constant struggle and deep sacrifice… required from those living in today’s Jewish homeland.

Absent Hashem, the settling of Canaan was readily rejected by the tribes of Reuven and Gad. Absent Hashem, the State of Israel runs the tragic risk of becoming a state like any other, potentially rejected when memory fades and the going gets tough.

This narrative, for example, challenges Jews living in the diaspora at a time when the Promised Land, after thousands of years of wandering, is fully “in our sight.” Will [they], like the tribes of Reuven and Gad, remain on the periphery of experience in Judaism as the focus of history shifts back to the Land of Israel? Will [they] and [their] children forfeit the opportunity to live in the land of our ancestors, an opportunity for which our people have prayed for centuries?

At it’s deepest level, the failure of the tribes of Reuven and Gad on the very border of the Promised Land serves as a cautionary tale, reminding us of the tragic results when we lose site of the opportunities before us, inherent in every aspect of our lives as Jews.

Regarding Moshe Rabbeinu’s response to the pledge of Sh’vatim Gad and Reuven to fight in the upcoming war; “then you shall be vindicated from Hashem and from Israel,” Rabbi Artscroll cites Yoma (38a) on Perek 32, posuk 22 (as rendered in this paragraph):

It is not enough for one to know that one’s actions are proper in Hashem’s eyes. One must also act in such a way as to not engender suspicion on the part of human beings.

Parsha Masei opens by recapping the events of B’nai Yisrael from Yetziyat Mitzrayim (leaving Egypt), through K’riyat Yam Suf (crossing the Reed Sea) as well as their travels in Bamidbar (in the desert) over the 40 years so that the Am Yisrael will recall the trials and, hopefully, actuate the lessons learned. Following this recap,

“Hashem spoke to Moshe… by the Jordan, at Yericho” (Artscroll Stone Chumash, Sefer BaMidbar, Perek 33, posuk 50) telling him to speak to the B’nai Yisrael and tell them;

“When you cross the Jordan to the land of Canaan, you shall drive out all of the inhabitants of the Land before you; and you shall destroy all their prostration stones; all of their molten images…. You shall possess the Land as an inheritance by lot to your families…. But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the Land before you, those of them whom you leave shall be pins in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they will harass you upon the Land in which you dwell. And it shall be that what had meant to do to them, I shall do to you.” (Artscroll Stone Chumash, Sefer BaMidbar, Perek 33, p’sukim 51-56, pages 922-923)

Rabbi Artscroll (page 923) then cites the Rashbam and follows with it’s own commentary;

… If they fail to do so, they will suffer the fate Hashem had intended to impose upon the Canaanites, and be driven out.

Only in the perspective of Hashem’s wisdom can this passage be understood. No human ruler has the right to decree that an entire population is to be… exiled, but Hashem revealed that the Canaanite presence was incompatible with both the Land’s holiness and Israel’s mission on earth. History is the most conclusive proof of this, for the fact was that the Jews could not bring themselves to eliminate all of the Canaanites, with the result that the Jews were drawn to idolatry, debauchery, and were in turn periodically oppressed and finally exiled.

This author recalls a point discussed and sent out a couple of years ago at this time by that kiruv legend, Jeff Seidel regarding Parsha Pinchas:

Parshat Pinchas relates a story (Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 27, posukim1-12) about the daughters of Tzlafchad, descendants of Yosef (Joseph). These daughters wanted and loved the Land of Israel so much that they wanted a piece of it. As Rav Moshe Feinstein asks, why do they have to have a claim in the land, just because they love it? Wouldn’t entering or living in the land be fulfilling enough?

Rav Moshe thus concludes that if a person truly loves something, they’d want it to be theirs, and no one else’s. This is why the daughters wanted to actually own a piece of the land, rather than simply living in it. This logic applies to marriages, as well as the Torah’s preference that every Jew writes their own Torah (or a portion of it). In our terms, it’s not enough to borrow and read Jewish books. We need to love the Torah we read SO much that we feel the need to own it! As this week’s Parsha urges, we should not only seek, read and enjoy words of Torah, but we should OWN those books, and live those words!

Suffice to say, that as this author understands R’Moshe, and as the title implies; passionate love of Eretz Yisrael jealously possessing it as our own, rather than craving for one’s narrow personal comfort and sense of “the normal life” of the nations.

If one could express possessing Eretz Yisrael as our own in human terms: if our land were a human being, one could embrace, hung, cling, possess and squeeze hard never letting go. We understand the Land as the physical, tangible manifestation of Hashem’s being and will. So, based on Rav Moshe’s axiom, a Jew possessing his Land, as if embracing it, seems the physical manifestation on earth of the spirituality of Torah, tefillah, chesed and cleaving to Hashem. And therefore, to one who passionately loves the Land, every inch of it is important — he is jealous for every inch of it and willing to fight for all of it, not just that one piece of the Land where he and his live.

Those of us who cleave to Eretz Yisrael yearn for the day of true Jewish leadership and sovereignty in the entirety of Eretz Yisrael.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the twice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free — only upon his return home to Israel, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of four years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.