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If money is all that a man makes, then he will be poor. Poor in happiness and poor in all that makes life worth living. -Herbert N. Casson
The nation of Israel had just vanquished two major kingdoms on the eastern side of the Jordan River, across from the land promised to them. After the battles, and with all the pasture around them, two tribes approached Moses. The tribes of Ruben and Gad came up to Moses and declared that they were laden with vast amounts of animals and the current land they were in was perfect for them. They wanted to stay, to settle outside the Promised Land, with their flocks.
Moses gets angry, a discussion ensues , and the tribes of Ruben and Gad declare that they will leave their flocks and their families in the east and go battle with the rest of Israel in the west, until the land is fully conquered. After the expected conquest, they will return to the land, to their flocks and family.
What is most telling is the order which these two tribes phrase their request. They place the flock before their family. Many of the commentators highlight the priorities these two tribes are exhibiting as well as Moses’ response to them. Moses flips the order, basically saying, take care of your family before you take care of your flock.
Rabbeinu Bechaye on Numbers 32:2 (Matot-Masai) takes the criticism even further. He claims that because the tribes of Ruben and Gad put their financial gains and greed before their families’ wellbeing, all their financial gains were cursed.
By being more concerned with their material wealth, their livestock, with animals, rather than with human beings and their own flesh and blood, they doomed themselves, and eventually were left with neither. Indeed, the tribes to the east of the Jordan would be the first to be exiled and seemingly lost to Jewish history.
Rabbeinu Bechaye ends his criticism with the famous dictum from Pirkei Avot (Chapters of our Fathers) which asks rhetorically, “Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot.”
May we be thankful for all the blessings in our life and especially for the one of family.
Shabbat Shalom,
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Ben-Tzion Spitz is a former Chief Rabbi of Uruguay and current candidate for Knesset with the Zehut party. He is the author of ten books on biblical themes and over 700 articles and stories dealing with biblical and rabbinic themes at his blog ben-tzion.com. Ben-Tzion is a graduate of Yeshiva University and received his Master’s in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University.