LET’S GET OUR PRIORITIES STRAIGHT
The Children of Reuven and the Children of Gad had a very great multitude of livestock… They said to Moshe and Elazar… Let this land be given to your servants as a possession; do not bring us across the Jordan. (32:1-5)
Moshe Rabbeinu’s reaction to this request was rather harsh. First he accused them of shirking their communal responsibilities: – Shall your brethren go out to war while you sit here? (32:6). Then he compared them to the spies who dissuaded the heart of the Children of Israel, not to come to the Land that the Lord has given them – (32:9). And to top it all off, he called them – A society of sinful men (32:14)!
In the end, though – after some clarifications, amendments, and conditions – Moshe consented to their request. The commentators try to figure out what their “sin” or error was, and what they said to convince Moshe that they would not fall into that trap. R. Yehudah Nachshoni (Hagute BeParshi’ot HaTorah) sums up the major approaches and asserts that the commentators identified five “sins”: 1) exaggerated subjugation to materialism; 2) an attempt to free themselves of their communal obligations; 3) a secular approach to Eretz Yisrael; 4) isolation from Klal Yisrael; 5) despising the Desirable Land.
In reality, these categories can be consolidated into three broader groups: 1) love of material possessions, 2) rejection of the Chosen Land, 3) lack of Jewish unity. The following Midrash underscores these three “sins” and shows that they are all interconnected:
Three gifts were created in the world. If a man is privileged to possess one of them, he has attained the desire of the whole world. If he is privileged to possess wisdom, he has attained everything; if he is privileged to possess strength, he has attained everything; if he is privileged to possess wealth, he has attained everything. When is this true? When they are gifts of Heaven and come by virtue of the Torah, but human strength and wealth is worthless… Two rich men arose in the world… – Korach from Israel and Haman from the Gentiles – and both of them were utterly destroyed. Why? Because their gifts were not from the Holy One Blessed be He, rather they grabbed it for themselves. You find the same phenomenon by the Children of Gad and the Children of Reuven. They were wealthy and possessed an abundance of livestock, but they loved their money and settled outside the Land of Israel. Therefore, they were exiled first, before all the other Tribes… What caused this? The fact that they separated themselves from their brethren because of their possessions… (BeMidbar Rabbah 22:7)
Thus, their love of money led to their rejection of the Holy Land and their isolation from Klal Yisrael. (Note that the Midrash compares the Children of Reuven and Gad to Korach and Haman! Astounding!)
This Midrash seems to imply that the eastern side of the Jordan is not considered part of Eretz Yisrael, as it says, “They settled outside the Land of Israel.” There is much debate on this point (which is more appropriate for Parashat Mas’ei, which delimits the boundaries of the Promised Land), but I think Rav Aviner clarifies the issue nicely in Tal Chermon (pp. 306-7). Discussing Moshe’s comparison of the Children of Reuven and Gad to the spies, R. Aviner asks:
What is the comparison? On the contrary, they did not despise the Land; they displayed a bond to this part of the Land, which was destined for them! However, their bond stemmed from an egotistical concern for their own financial gain. They neglected the all-encompassing unity of the Jewish people, and they forgot that all of Eretz Yisrael belongs to all of Am Yisrael, and that one must see to it that the entire Land is conquered. Moreover, the conquest of the western side of Eretz Yisrael precedes that of Transjordan, for there are different levels of sanctity in the Land of Israel: The land of Judah – the site of the Sanctuary – is the holiest place; then comes the Galilee; and only afterwards comes Transjordan. Of course, this piece of land is also included in the sanctity of Eretz Yisrael, but it is relatively less holy, in comparison to the other areas…
The lesson to be learned from the “sin” of B’nei Gad and B’nei Reuven, especially as seen through the eyes of Chazal in the above-cited Midrash, is obvious. We must put our priorities in the right place and realize that the future of Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael is more important than our own physical comfort.
Perhaps in this context (and considering that Tish’a B’Av is fast approaching), it is appropriate to quote the Yerushalmi on the reasons for the second destruction. We are all familiar with the Bavli’s version: “Why was the Second Temple destroyed…? Because of groundless hatred” (Yoma 9b). Few people, however, are aware of a small, but significant, addition found in the Yerushalmi: “…Because they loved money and hated one another for no reason…” (Yoma 1:1)!
I must share one more idea that is very applicable to the current situation here in Israel. As mentioned above, the first thing Moshe said to the Children of Reuven and Gad was, Shall your brethren go out to war while you sit here? R. Yonatan Eybeshitz explains this as follows: “Do you think that when the enemy goes to war against your brethren on the western side of the Jordan, he will let you dwell tranquilly in your portion?! Don’t think such a thing! If you sit complacently and fail to help your brethren in the wars that are destined to occur in Eretz Yisrael, the enemy is likely to attack you as well, after he defeats the other tribes. The Jewish nation’s strength lies in its unity. When it is united, it can defeat all of its adversaries…” (Parpara’ot LaTorah, p. 241).