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As Bnei Yisroel passed through the land of Ya’azer and Gilad in the “Ever HaYarden” (land East of the Jordan River) they noticed that the land was very fertile and quite suitable for grazing animals.
The two shevatim (tribes) of Reuven and Gad, who had large flocks of cattle, spoke to Moshe and expressed their desire to settle in Ever HaYarden – even though it was not part of Eretz Yisroel proper.
Having led his people through the desert for 40 years with the hope of reaching the holy soil of Eretz Yisroel, Moshe was understandably disappointed that two shevatim relinquished their portion in the Promised Land in exchange for a parcel in Ever HaYarden.
Moshe expressed himself rather sharply to the leaders of Reuven and Gad. He asked them why they would weaken the spirit of their brothers by not accompanying them to Eretz Yisroel and going to battle alongside the members of the other Tribes.
Moshe reminded them of the terrible damage done by the demoralizing report of the meraglim (spies). He wondered why these two shevatim would risk incurring the wrath of Hashem by demonstrating their willingness to forgo the privileged of entering Eretz Yisroel – a zechus denied to Moshe himself.
An Additional Rebuke
Moshe also gave them tochachah for their lack of proper priorities. When speaking to Moshe, they stated that they had every intention of supporting the war efforts of the remainder of Klal Yisroel. “We will build pens for our flocks of cattle and cities for our children (Bamidbar 32:16).
Moshe admonished them for placing their possessions before their children. He implied that their priorities were misplaced, perhaps as a result of their intense focus on the needs of their flocks.
The people of Reuven and Gad accepted Moshe’s rebuke, and recalibrated their priorities. In fact, the next time they discussed their arrangements with Moshe (Bamidbar 32:26), they listed their children and wives before their cattle.
An Interesting Observation
The Ohr HaChaim notes that the leaders of the shevatim expressed their acceptance of Moshe’s rebuke using two different terms. They said that they would do ” as Moshe instructed us” (Bamidbar 32:25). Two pesukim later, they said that they would join Bnei Yisroel in battle, ” as my master has spoken.”
The Ohr HaChaim offers a lengthy explanation as to the reason for the two distinct terms that the people of Reuven and Gad used (see Ohr HaChaim, Bamidbar 32:25 for the full text).
A Deeper Level
I would like to suggest an additional thought as to the usage of these two terms.
Advice and guidance can be adhered to on two very different levels. The first is to follow what we were instructed to the letter of the law. A much deeper commitment is to truly get the “big picture” of what we are being told. When that happens, we don’t merely do what we are told. We internalize the lessons and change our view of things as a result of the wisdom we attained by listening to the constructive criticism that we were given.
The Bnei Reuven and Gad realized that their moral compass became skewed as a result of their newly acquired wealth. They were struck by the fact that they inadvertently mentioned their possessions before their children. Once they internalized the criticism of Moshe, they informed him that they were willing to improve and change the course of their lives.
“We will do what you instructed us,” they told Moshe. Much more importantly, they accepted the full meaning and import of their rebbi’s words – and the course of their lives.
Best wishes for a Gutten Shabbos.
Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey, and the founder and director of Project Y.E.S.
To purchase Rabbi Horowitz’s Dvar Torah Sefer, Growing With the Parsha or his popular parenting tapes and CD’s – including his 4-CD set “What Matters Most” – please visit www.rabbihorowitz.com, email email@example.com, or call 845-352-7100 x 133.
Rabbi Yakov Horowitz