MATOS-MASEI (Numbers, 30:2-36:13) — “First Things First!”

The Tribes of Reuben and Gad were wealthy.  They owned larger flocks of livestock than the other tribes.  They needed a place to graze those flocks.  That place was the East Bank of the Jordan River.

The two tribes asked Moses to allow them to inherit the East Bank:

“ . . . The land . . . is livestock land — and what we have is livestock . . . let this land be given to us . . . don’t bring us across the Jordan.”  (Numbers, 32:4,5)

A win/win situation.  Reuben/Gad get grazing land for their flocks.  The other tribes get to divide the Land of Israel ten ways, rather than twelve.

Moses, however, was not impressed:

Will your brothers go out to battle while you stay here?  Why are you trying to discourage the Israelites from crossing over into the land that G-d has given them? . . . If you will discourage them from following Him, He will once again leave us in the desert.  Then you will have destroyed this nation completely!” (6-7, 15)

The Reubenites and Gadites offered Moses a deal:

“We will build enclosures for our sheep and cities for our children. We will then arm ourselves and go quickly in front of the Israelites until we have brought them to their homeland . . . We will not return home until every Israelite has taken possession of his hereditary property.” (16-18)

Seems like a fair proposal.  Moses seems to have gone for it:

“Every armed man must cross the Jordan . . . When the land is conquered before G-d, you may return home . . . This land will then be yours . . . Now build cities for your children and enclosures for your sheep — and keep your promise! ” (21-22, 24)

It was a deal!  “We will do as you have ordered.  Our children, wives, property, and livestock will remain here . . . All our forces will cross over for battle before G-d, as you have said.” (26-27)

Now everything was going to be okay.  Everyone was in agreement.

Or were they?  Did you notice the nuanced indications of diverse priorities?

Reuben and Gad offered to “build enclosures for our sheep and cities for our children.”  First the sheep and then the children?!  Rashi explains that Moses rejected that offer and reprimanded them.  He insisted that they “build cities for your children and enclosures for your sheep.”  The children had to come first.

The Reubenites and Gadites implied that they got the message:  “We will do as you have ordered.  Our children, wives, property, and livestock will remain here …”  They now understood that they had to straighten out their priorities.  Family comes first!

But did they REALLY get the message?  Why did they reject the Land of Israel in the first place?  “. . . the land . . . is livestock land — and what we have is livestock.”

The whole premise of their request was that Transjordan would be good for business.  The kids?  Oh, they’ll be okay.  We’ll protect our assets and our kids.  Oh, that’s not the right order?  Okay, we’ll protect our kids and our assets, if you prefer that order.  Whatever we have to say to get this done . . .

Did they really understand Moses’ point, or were they only paying lip service?  It seems to me that if they had really understood Moses’ reprimand about family priorities, they would have abandoned the project entirely.  If they were really as concerned about the spiritual well-being of their children as they were about the material well-being of their property, would they have turned their backs on the Holy Land and settled in the Diaspora?  Would they have rejected the opportunity for their children to live in the Land that G-d had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, preferring the opportunity to make a buck across the river?

The Talmud points out that when the Ten “Lost Tribes” of Israel were led into exile, those living on the East Bank of the Jordan were the first to go.  Could it have been due to their mixed-up priorities?

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It is important to make a living.  It is even a Mitzvah.  But how often does it happen that people put so much emphasis on their business that they neglect their REAL careers as parents and spouses?

They will even justify their work ethic by claiming it’s for the family! I’m doing everything I can FOR THEM!  If I make a lot of money, my wife and kids will have whatever they need/want.  Except for the fact that maybe what they REALLY need/want is a husband and a father! (“And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon…“)

What is the cost of sacrificing one’s family on the altar of one’s career?  Let me put it this way — if business fails, there’s always Chapter 11.

But what are you going to do with a bankrupt family?

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

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From the Archives

Some years the two Torah Portions of Matos and Massei are read together, and some years they are read on two separate Sabbaths.  For your convenience, here are links to both Portions:

FIRST PORTION – MATOS

“The Pope and the Designated Hitter” (2007) 

(This article appeared, in abbreviated form, as an op/ed in the Jewish Press.  The article went on to be misquoted in several languages in Catholic Blogs and websites all over the world.  Lots of Catholics now love me and agree with me, and some despise me; and both groups do so for the same reason – because they have totally misinterpreted what I wrote!!  🙂)

Oh, man, are they ever angry!…

I don’t require my Christian neighbor to respect my religious beliefs.  His beliefs are his business; my beliefs are mine…Don’t worry about my soul… we’ll worry about our own souls, thank you…

The Pope believes I am wrong.  If he didn’t, he wouldn’t be much of a Catholic.  And that’s okay.  He can believe whatever he wants.  He just happens to be wrong…

Read more.

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“The Silverware Garden” (2005) 

One of the more common misconceptions in Kosher Law that I come across is the notion that I like to call “the  Silverware Garden.”  I can’t tell you how many people have told me that they recall in their youth observing their mothers or grandmothers taking spoons, forks, and knives that had become non-Kosher and sticking them in the ground for a few days to make them Kosher.  There appears to be some mystical power of the earth to draw the non-Kosher status out of the utensils.  The truth is that this practice demonstrates a total misunderstanding of the process of Koshering vessels…

Read more.

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“First Things First!” (2003)

The Tribes of Reuben and Gad were wealthy.  They owned larger flocks of livestock than the other tribes.  They needed a place to graze those flocks.  That place was the East Bank of the Jordan River.

The two tribes asked Moses to allow them to inherit the East Bank…

A win/win situation.  Reuben/Gad get grazing land for their flocks.  The other tribes get to divide the  Land of  Israel ten ways, rather than twelve.

Moses, however, was not impressed…

Read more.

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SECOND PORTION – MASSEI

 “The Language of G-d” (2010)

Our Sages make a very surprising comment on this event.   “G-d said to Moses, ‘Do Me a favor, and tell Aaron … because I am embarrassed to tell him.”

This statement obviously requires explanation.  What could cause G-d to refer to Himself as “embarrassed”, and how would that embarrassment be prevented through Moses’ intercession?…

Read more.

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“Hey! Ya Never Know!” (2004)

… Joshua needed to get to the bottom of this.  All he knew was that SOMEONE had violated the ban; he needed to find out who the criminal was … Achan did not cooperate in the interrogation.  “Are you accusing me based upon a LOTTERY?  Is this how you search for criminals?  By coincidence?!  Why don’t you try drawing lots between yourself and Elazar the High Priest?  One of YOU will come out guilty!

Achan seems to have had a good point.  It appears that Joshua himself wasn’t sure…

Read more.

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“One Small Step for a Man…” (2002)

…I once heard movie critic Michael Medved asked on the radio how he maintains a spiritual life, in spite of his exposure to some of the non-spiritual (to be kind) elements of the world of “entertainment.”  Mr. Medved responded that …

There is something else Mr. Medved does to maintain a holier way of life.  He does it by keeping the spiritual level of his home on a higher plane than the average home.  He doesn’t…

Read more.

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“Say a Little Prayer for Me” (2001)

…How long a sentence did one serve for manslaughter?  That was dependent upon a factor that had no apparent relationship to the criminal or the crime:

He must dwell in the city of refuge until the death of the Kohain Gadol (High Priest).  After the death of the Kohain Gadol, the killer may return to the land of his possession.

WHY ARE WE PICKING ON THE HIGH PRIEST?  How do you think it made the Kohain Gadol feel to know that several convicts were eagerly anticipating his demise? …What did HE do wrong?

… in one respect, he WAS at fault…

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in  Monsey,New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on July 24, 2003 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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