The lesson in this week’s reading is clear: Wealth and sustenance are very important, but children, and by extension, family, are much more important.
This week’s Torah portion is Matot-Maasei (Numbers 30:2-36:13). It is actually a double Torah portion, and with it, we conclude our reading of the book of Numbers.
In these chapters, the Jewish people find themselves just about ready to enter the Land of Israel. They are in Jordan, opposite Jericho, in a place known as the plains of Moab. Everyone is ready to enter. They’ve been waiting 40 years! Joshua was confirmed as the new leader. Moses was about to deliver his final teachings. The excitement is in the air.
But two tribes approach Moses with a very anti-climactic request. The tribes of Gad and Reuben asked Moses if they could stay in Jordan. Permanently. They weren’t so excited to enter the Land of Israel. This is because the tribes of Gad and Reuben were rich in livestock and the Jordanian plain made for perfect pasture land for their animals. They wanted to remain behind, on their own, in Jordan.
Moses was very taken aback by their request, to say the least. He chastised them for abandoning the rest of the Jewish people who were preparing for a major battle: the first war of independence! Everyone else was to serve in the army, so why should they be different? Moses also said that such a move would be demoralizing on everyone else. Moses’ answer was essentially, “No.”
Gad and Reuben then proposed a variation of their request. They suggested to Moses: Let us build barns for our animals and some towns for our children. Then we’ll go along with everyone else to the army, we’ll fight along with everyone else, and we’ll only return to Jordan after everyone else is settled in the Land of Israel.
Moses was much warmer to this version and told them: That’s acceptable. Go build some towns for your children and some barns for your animals.
Notice how Moses reversed the order of their plans! The people of Gad and Reuben had mentioned their animals first, and only afterwards did they mention their children. Moses made them realize that they had their priorities messed up. He told them to first take care of their children and then take care of their animals.
The lesson in this exchange is clear. Animals, and by extension, wealth and sustenance, are very important, but children, and by extension, family, are more important! Unfortunately many people today are caught up and obsessed with their jobs and their pursuit of wealth. Such people do not realize the damage that is caused to the children and to the spouse. Even if the damage is not readily apparent – it is there.
The Midrash (rabbinic literature) says that when Gad and Reuben got back to their homes in Jordan after the war of independence and the division of the land, which was 14 years later, their children were unrecognizable. They were now teenagers who had gone off to different paths in life! That’s what happens when there is no father. The children become at risk and vulnerable to all types of negative influences.
Don’t make the Gad and Reuben mistake! Your job and wealth are important, but please remember that your family is even more important!
For more of Rabbi Ari Enkin’s insights on this week’s Torah reading, click on the links below: