The portion of Matot begins by laying out the laws of vows and other verbal commitments in Jewish tradition. Then we have the quick and victorious war against the Midianites that was marvelously undertaken by the Israelite Soldiers… The final event in Matot is the unique request of the tribes of Reuven and Gad.
The tribesmen of Reuven and Gad were primarily shepherds. They possessed large flocks of cattle and other herds. The land on the eastern side of the Jordan, where the people of Israel were currently encamped, was ideal for pasture. As such, the tribes of Reuven and Gad asked Moshe if they can be allotted their portion of land on the eastern side of the Jordan River rather than on the western side of the Jordan River where the State of Israel is today.
At first Moshe disapproved of this idea. He was worried that other tribes might follow suit and ask for land allocations in other areas as well. Would the tribe of Dan ask for land in Lebanon? Or the tribe of Shimon in the area of Saudi Arabia? Furthermore, and most notably, Moses was worried that the other tribes might think that the request of Reuven and Gad was based on a fear of entering the land of Israel, or a fear of conquering the land, or a fear of the military campaign that awaited them. Moses was worried that other tribes might lose their morale if two tribes were to exclude themselves from the rest of the nation.
Nevertheless, Moses quickly changed his mind and supported the requests of Reuven and Gad when their leaders explained to Moses that they fully intended to first cross over the Jordan and fight along with everyone else. It was only after the land would be conquered, divided, and settled, would the tribes of Reuven and Gad assume possession of their land across the Jordan. Reuven and Gad weren’t draft dodgers – they were draft go-getters, volunteers, and leaders in their own right. Indeed, Reuven and Gad essentially had nothing to gain by going out to war to conquer the land of Israel because they wanted to settle in Jordan anyway. Hence, their participation in the army and the conquering of the Land of Israel was for no other reason than to share in the burden and support their fellow Jews.
In short, every member of the Jewish nation people must do their part to contribute to the success of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel.
Shabbat Shalom from Israel!
Rabbi Ari Enkin