Parshiyot Matos-Masei 5780: Contrasting Shevatim Reuven and Gad and the Daughters of Tzelaphchad

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Parshiyot Matos-Masei 5780: Contrasting Shevatim Reuven and Gad and the Daughters of Tzelaphchad

by Moshe Burt

There are three excerpts from Rabbi Shmuel Goldin’s Summary of Parshat Pinchas and Parshiyot Matos/Masei, in his sefer “Unlocking The Torah Text,” Sefer Bamidbar (pages 253, 275-276) which speak impactfully regarding the contrast indicated by the title of this vort:

Representatives of the tribes of Reuven and Gad approach Moshe with the request that they be allowed to remain on the East Bank of the Jordan River. Moshe responds indignantly, expressing deep-seeded fears that the refusal of these tribes to enter Canaan will prompt the entire nation to question their own entry into the land. Such an eventuality, he warns, might well lead to a national tragedy similar to the sin of the spies, a generation earlier.

The representatives of Reuven and Gad counter with an offer to fight in the vanguard of the army of B’nei Yisrael, returning to their homes and families only after the conquest of the land. Moshe agrees, and the territory on the East Bank of the Jordan is set aside for tribes of Reuven, Gad and one-half of the tribe [Shevet] Menashe.

From Parshat Pinchas:

The four daughters of Tzelaphchad approach Moshe protesting the fact that, because their father “died of his own sin in the wilderness” without leaving sons, their family would not receive its rightful land portion. When Moshe seeks Divine Council, Hashem informs him that the daughters of Tzelaphchad are justified in their claims. In the absence of sons, daughters will inherit their family’s land.

In the Parshat Masei segment of the double Parsha:

…Hashem, responding to the concerns of the elders of the tribe of Menashe (the tribe to which the daughters of Tzelaphchad belong; mandates that a woman who inherits land from her father must marry within her tribe. (Rabbi Goldin notes in a citing from Talmud Bavli Bava Batra 120a; that the Talmud explains that this limitation applied only to the generation that entered the land

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:

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.

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,” The Artscroll Stone Chumash 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.

Rabbi Goldin goes further (ibid, pages 306, 309):

…In Moshe’s response to the two tribes… [he] reviews the tribes’ proposal to participate in the conquest of the land, …insert[ing] the phrase “before the Lord” no fewer than five times in four short sentences. Why does Moshe find such reiteration necessary? Wouldn’t one mention of Hashem’s involvement suffice?

The answer becomes clear upon viewing Moshe’s words… Moshe repeatedly stresses Hashem’s involvement in the conquest of the land because the representatives of the [two] tribes, in their original proposal to Moshe, do not mention Hashem even once.

The tribes of Reuven and Gad define their responsibility at this juncture solely in interpersonal terms [and] in order to counter Moshe’s objections to their remaining on the Jordan’s East Bank [while] find[ing] a way to satisfy their obligation to the rest of the nation.

Moshe, however, sees things differently… [that] the nation’s entry into Canaan is not solely a nationalistic enterprise but is, even more fundamentally, a fulfillment of Hashem’s will. The two tribes’ primary obligation, therefore, lies not toward their brothers, but, rather, towards Hashem.

Rabbi Goldin continues (ibid, page 315):

The absence of Hashem from [Shevatim] Reuven’s and Gad’s calculations concerning the conquest of Canaan… foreshadows challenging patterns in our own time.

Increasingly disillusioned by the shortcomings they see around them and influenced by the development of post-Zionist ideology, many… young Israelis have… begun to question the need for constant struggle and deep sacrifice that is required from those living in today’s homeland of the Jews.

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 sight of the opportunities before us, inherent in every aspect of our lives as Jews.

Regarding the daughters of Tzelaphchad, This author recalls a paradigm of the ideal; of B’nei Yisrael clinging to Eretz Yisrael as our inheritance and possessing it, the story of the daughters of Tzelaphchad. Torah relates the story of the daughters of Tzelaphchad (The Sapirstein Edition, “The Torah with Rashi Commentary, Sefer Bamidbar, Note 3 to Perek 27, posuk 1, page 340):

…It teaches… that the daughters of Tzlafchad and all of their ancestors back to Yosef were righteous. This includes Tzelaphchad himself, even though “he died for his sin”… (Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 27, posuk 3) (see Be’er Mayim Chaim, Be’er BaSadeh)

Several years ago, at this time, that kiruv legend, Jeff Seidel related the story regarding Parsha Pinchas:

Parshat Pinchas relates a story (Sefer Bamidbar 27:1-12) 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?

R’ Moshe thus concludes that if a person truly loves something, they’d want it to be theirs, and no one else’s. This could explain 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! …We should not only seek, read and enjoy words of Torah, but we should OWN those books, and live those words!

As this author understand’s R’Moshe, and as the title of this Parshat HaShevua implies; we are able to see the contrast between the nonchalance of the tribes of Reuven and Gad and the passionate love of the daughters of Tzelaphchad for the land, even before entering Eretz Yisrael = jealously possessing it as our own.

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 is willing to fight for all of it, not just that one piece of the Land where he and his live.

There is a message here for Jews of the Diaspora, or as we say, Chutz L’Aretz. There seems NO LONGER to be a sense of narrow personal comfort and sense of “the normal life” of the nations. Hey, there is NO “normal life” for the Jew in Chutz L’Aretz. Read the news from around the world. Read of the mobs, the looting, the burning, the violence, often with either the acquiesence and overt support of local municipalities, while many are chasing their debts, feeling the pinch of corona-related unemployment and suffering under seemingly contradictory corona politicized local regulations.

It’s time for the spirit of the daughters of Tzelaphchad, that even the daughters want their piece of Eretz Yisrael. It’s Aliyah time. It’s time to commit to and possess what is ours, for the only normative life for Jews, even during the Chinese corona virus, is here in 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 thrice 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, as Naama Issachar is now free and home — which can only occur when Jonathan is home in Israel and carrying for his ill wife Esther Yocheved bat Rayzl Bracha, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of five and a half 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.