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Pensive man at supermarket

There’s an important lesson to be learned in this week’s Torah portion: Take the time to look at the “big picture” and think things through before making a major decision. 

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

This week’s Torah portion is Matot (Numbers 30:2-32:42), meaning “Tribes.” Among the different events mentioned in the reading is the request of the tribes of Reuven and Gad to settle in Jordan and not enter the Land of Israel along with the rest of the Israelites.

As the verse says: “The people of Reuven and Gad had much livestock and they saw that the land of Yaazer and the land of Gilad [ed. Jordan] was a good place for livestock.”

The people of the tribes of Reuven, Gad and half of the tribe of Menashe asked for permission to settle on the eastern side of the Jordan River and not in Israel proper. Moses was initially upset at them for making such a request because he thought that they were merely trying to get out of military duty for the battle of the Land of Israel (the first war of Independence!).

They explained to Moses that they were not trying to get out of anything and would indeed serve along with everyone else in the fight for the land – it was just that the area of Jordan seemed to be better for their animals. And so it was: they crossed over with everyone else, fought in the war, and settled in Jordan only after everyone else was settled in Israel.

That said, the commentators still give the tribes of Reuven, Gad and Menashe a negative review for their request. Indeed, it is taught that these tribes were the first to be exiled due to having excluded themselves from the land in the first place.

It is noted that all three tribes were from firstborn stock. Reuven was the firstborn to both his father, Jacob, and mother, Leah; Gad was the firstborn to his mother, Bilhah; and Menashe was Joseph’s firstborn. The sages teach that firstborns are often leaders by nature, likely due to the many responsibilities thrust upon them as the first sibling in the family. It is also taught that firstborns often have more energy than the others.

The problem, however, is that people with lots of energy are often impulsive and make rash decisions. Indeed, this seems to be a repeated pitfall among so many firstborns. Think about it: Cain, Ishmael, Esau, Reuven – all firstborns who got themselves into trouble for impulsive actions.

It may just be that the request of Reuven, Gad and Menashe was another impulsive decision. As the Jewish people were making their way towards the Land of Israel, these three tribes saw an area that would be perfect for their cattle, and boom – they decided to grab it for themselves even before checking whether there was equally good pasture on the other side of the Jordan, in Israel.

With their rash decision, they lost out on many mitzvot (Torah commandments) and experiences that can only be had in Israel proper. Clearly God wasn’t thrilled with their plans, because, as already noted, they were the first to be exiled from the land.

We have to take the time to look at the “big picture” before making decisions. More often than not, a well-thought-out decision will be the right one!

For more insights by Rabbi Ari Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.




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