This week we will be reading 2 Torah portions. Matot and Masei.
Towards the end of Matot we read about the tribes of Re’uven, Gad and half the tribe of Menashe, who approached Moshe with a proposal. “The land that Hashem has conquered for us (i.e. the land east of the Jordan River) is very good for cattle. Since we have a lot of sheep, if you don’t mind, please let us have this land as our possession and don’t take us to the other side of the Jordan.” Moshe, upon hearing this became very upset. “Your brethren will go to war and you will stay here? By staying here you are causing the rest of the people to be afraid to enter the Promised Land! Your parents made the same mistake and were punished with a period of forty years of wandering through the desert till the last of them had died.” The two and a half tribes then brokered a deal with Moshe. They would build cities for their cattle and children on the East Coast first and then they would enter the Jewish land and fight in the front lines till the entire country would be conquered and everyone would be settled. Only then would they return to their families. Instead of receiving a part of the Promised Land they would only take the land on the East Coast.
The East Coast had been conquered from different nations though warfare, as we read earlier in the Torah. Why then did these people think they would get all that land, that had been fought for by ALL the tribes, and let the rest of the nation fight for more land?
When we look at their words we will notice that they said “ the land that Hashem has conquered for us.” Although they had gone to war with an army, it was obvious that their victories had been miraculous. Their argument was that the war in Israel would also be won with Hashem’s help and therefore it wouldn’t make a difference if there were ten or twelve tribes fighting in the army. Moshe didn’t like that argument. He said: “It is nice that you tell ME that you are sure Hashem will help, but how will the other people look at it? They will think you are afraid to enter the Promised Land and that will have the same result as what happened with your parents”.
There are several things here that need clarification.
They told Moshe that they were sure Hashem would conquer the land for them. Why did Moshe compare them (“you are taking the place of your parents”) to the spies from the previous generation that had said that Hashem WON’T be able to conquer the mighty kings? To be afraid for a similar reaction by the rest of the nation would be justified, but
not to compare THEM to the spies.
They only came to Moshe with an idea on condition that he would agree. Why was this long speech necessary, calling them sinners etc. if he could have just said ‘no’ to the proposal. In that case they would have joined everyone else and wouldn’t there be a possibility of anyone becoming afraid.
Many years later when the Jewish people were exiled, the first ones to suffer were the people who lived on the East Coast of the Jordan. After it was agreed upon that they would join the army, Moshe readily agreed that they could eventually settle in Jordan. If it was OK to live there, why did they deserve to be the first ones to suffer? That implies that it was wrong for them to be there.
We can try to explain it like this: When Moshe agreed to the deal, he wasn’t happy with their choice to stay behind. When he had been assured that they wouldn’t cause the rest of the people to be afraid, his main concern had been taken away. However, he was still unhappy with the fact that they stayed behind. That was the reason for lecturing them and comparing them to the spies. The spies had come back with a report consisting of two parts. 1) The PEOPLE living in Israel at the time were giants and would be too strong to conquer. 2) The LAND was bad. To prove their point they brought with them some huge fruits that they had found in Israel. The two and a half tribes differed only with the first argument. They were convinced Hashem would win the wars for them. The second argument however, they also used. “This LAND is better for our sheep.” (Note that Moshe makes mention of the fruits in his answer)
The two and a half tribes counted about one hundred thousand men between the ages of twenty and sixty. Including women and children that number was much higher. According to the above explanation we must say that Moshe, the faithful leader, agreed that all these people would stay behind in a country where they didn’t belong. Knowing the great love Moshe always showed to ALL his people, this is hard to believe.
When we go back a little in history, we will find that all the patriarchs and their children were shepherds, with the exception of Yosef. Yosef was always the one involved with running the household. First by his father Yakov, and later, as a slave by Potifar. Even in prison he was in no time appointed as care taker of the prisoners’ needs. After he was introduced to Pharaoh he was appointed viceroy, giving him full power of the country, Pharaoh only being mightier in name. Despite all this involvement in worldly matters, Yosef remained faithful to G-d.
The difference between Yosef and the other righteous people of that time is explained
as follows. The patriarchs had souls that were on a level were negative co-exists with positive. Yakov had a brother Esav. Bringing these tow opposites together was a struggle. At one point Yakov even had a physical hand fight with a representative of the ‘other side’. For them to be involved with spiritual matters they had to separate themselves from physical matters. For that reason they preferred living in the fields as shepherds. Yosef had a soul that came from a source were the words good and bad didn’t exist.
The classic example goes like this. When a high-ranking minister is seen talking to a homeless beggar, he is probably offering him a job as garbage collector. Although the minister is on a much higher level than the beggar, he deals with him for the little that he is worth. When the mighty king stops on his way through the city and smiles to a little child and asks how he/she is doing, the child is not being spoken to for what he means to the king. As a matter of fact, the child, and really everyone else in the country, are completely nothing compared to the king. Even more, the reason why the king will speak to a child or a homeless rather than to a storekeeper is BECAUSE they are so low. The higher one is the more he is tended to deal with the lowest of the low. Before the king gave attention to the child, it had completely no importance compared to the king. Once the king started talking, the child’s importance is only the fact that the king GAVE IT importance.
Yakov, representative of truth, was obviously on a much higher level than anything negative. That was all in proportion though. He was like the minister compared to the homeless beggar. Although he himself was perfect, there were others that weren’t and had the ability to bother him. Therefore he tried to keep a distance by living as a shepherd. When he was, at one point, confronted with Esav (representative of evil) and his army, he dealt with it in two ways. He prayed to Hashem of course but also did whatever he could physically to try to avoid a war. He sent presents and bowed down to him etc. Although we do find that as a result of Yakov bowing down to Esav his descendants ruled over the Jewish people for many years, we don’t find that Yakov was punished for trying to appease Esav. Yosef on the other hand was punished for asking a fellow prisoner to bring his case to the attention of pharaoh. Since Yosef had a soul from a level where the worlds’ only importance is the fact that Hashem wants it to have importance, it was wrong for him to even consider going through natural ways.
All this was a long time ago, before the Torah was given. Once the Torah was given DOWN here in this physical world it became Hashem’s will to deal WITH the physical world. With that came the strength and the ability to be able to do so, similar to the level of Yosef.
This is were the spies come in. Their mistake was that they preferred being like Yakov. In the desert they had all the time of the world to study Torah without having to deal with the world. Food and drinks were provided miraculously by Hashem with the ‘Man’ and Miriam’s well and the clouds did the dry cleaning. They were afraid to go into the land were they would have to work in the fields in order to get bread on the table. That however, was exactly the divine purpose as we can see from the fact that many mitzvot are connected with fields and preparing of food.
The question we can ask now is: if the divine purpose was to deal with the land how did Moshe allow Reuven, Gad and half of Menashe to eventually return to be shepherds?
Even after the Torah was given there have always existed two ways of serving G-d. (See also last week’s article about Moshe and Pinchas) The majority of the people spend their day dealing with the physical world in a Torah way. They make sure to only do, eat, talk, look etc. what’s right and they give charity from the money they earn. Torah study and prayer is limited to their free time.
Using physical objects for good purposes connects them and elevates them to a higher spiritual level. We, with our physical bodies, do not feel any spirituality though when polishing our shoes in honor of Shabbat.
For that there is a (much smaller) group of people who devote their entire lives to Torah study and prayer. Those people are needed to bring ‘visible’ spirituality into the world as the Torah is compared to a light.
At first Moshe thought he was dealing with a new version of the spies. Only after they explained to him that they were not essentially opposed to the idea of dealing with the land, which they would demonstrate by being in the forefront of the army, he allowed them to return to Jordan to be of the “Torah people”.
Although being closed of from the world to be totally devoted to Torah study is a form of divine service for certain people, the main purpose remains to live in the world and elevate it to a higher spiritual level. Therefore, although Moshe gave permission for them to be shepherds, they were the first ones to suffer exile as they were not doing the ultimate divine service required in our times, before the coming of Moshiach.
Hashem made a promise to give ten nations into our hands. Seven of those had been defeated shortly after the Jewish people left Egypt. Three nations, namely Keini, Knizi and Kadmoni, will be defeated only when Moshiach comes. According to one explanation, the desire to settle on the East Side of the Jordan stemmed from a desire to have the ultimate redemption by Moshiach right then and there. -That land belonged to those three nations.
May we merit the coming of Moshiach and the final inheritance of Keini, Knizi and Kadmoni right NOW!