Rabbi Shlomo Pick

Beit HaMidrash, Ludwig and Erica Jesselson Institute for Advanced Torah Studies,
Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan, Israel

 
 

SUPERFICIAL VALUES IN CONTRAST TO TRUE ONES
TRANSJORDAN IN CONTRAST TO THE LAND OF CANAAN
In this essay I would like to focus upon the connection between the end of Parashat Matot and the first half of Parashat Mas’ei, between the choice made by the tribes of Reuben and Gad to settle in Transjordan and the Torah’s follow-up stories in Parashat Mas’ei.
 
The Torah recounts that due to the large flocks of sheep owned by the tribes of
Reuben and Gad, they chose to remain in the land of Sichon and Og, i.e., Transjordan, because this was a choice area for grazing, and would be perfect for all their flocks.  According to their own words, they preferred their sheep over their families, as it is written (Num. 32, 16): “And they came near unto him, and said: ‘We will build sheepfolds here for our cattle, and cities for our little ones.”  Moses had to instill into them proper values (ibid, 24): “Build you cities for your little ones, and folds for your sheep…” – children before their sheep. 
Indeed they learned their lessons: “And the children of Gad and the children of Reuben spoke unto Moses, saying: ‘Thy servants will do as my lord commands. Our little ones, our wives, our flocks, and all our cattle, shall be there in the cities of Gilead…” (ibid, 25-26).  Thus they learned to value their children before their flocks.
 
At the very beginning of the next parashah, the Torah recounts all the journeys undertaken by the children of Israel – a brief summary of the books of Exodus and Numbers.
The last verses of these journeys are (Num. 33, 48-49): “And they journeyed from the mountains of Abarim, and pitched in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho. And they pitched by the Jordan, from Beth-jeshimoth even unto Abel-shittim in the plains of Moab”. They arrived at the plains of Moab, and basically to all of Transjordan.
However, this is not the last stop; there is to be a continuation to these journeys as recounted in the following verses (Num. 33):
And the LORD spoke unto Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, saying: ‘Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them: When ye pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan…
 And ye shall drive out the inhabitants of the land, and dwell therein; for unto you have I given the land to possess it.
And ye shall inherit the land by lot according to your families–to the more ye shall give the more inheritance, and to the fewer thou shalt give the less inheritance; wheresoever the lot falleth to any man, that shall be his; according to the tribes of your fathers shall ye inherit…
Immediately follows a description of the boundaries of the Land of Israel, the objective being to describe the true land of Israel and its special qualities as described in the following verse (Num.35, 34): “And thou shalt not defile the land which ye inhabit, in the midst of which I dwell; for I the LORD dwell in the midst of the children of Israel.”
The land of Israel according to the boundaries described in Parashat Mas’ei is not just an inheritance, or tract of land similar to Transjordan. It is a land in which God dwells, where the Divine Presence is found. In contrast to the Promise Land of
Parashat Mas’ei, the Book of Joshua describes Transjordan in an uncomplimentary manner (Joshua 22, 19): “Howbeit, if the land of your possession be unclean, then pass ye over unto the land of the possession of the LORD, wherein the LORD’S tabernacle dwells, and take possession among us; but rebel not against the LORD, nor rebel against us, in building you an altar besides the altar of the LORD our God.”
Rashi comments on the phrase ‘if the land of your possession be unclean’ – that the Holy One Blessed be He has not chosen to place His Divine Presence there.”  “An unclean land” means one in which there is no Divine Presence.  The tribes of Reuben and Gad preferred their possessions over the privilege of living in the Land of Israel, the home of the Divine Presence.
 
Transjordan has remained part of the land of Israel, but lacks the dimension of the Divine Presence. There is a strong connection between the refusal of the tribes of Reuben and Gad to dwell in the Land of Israel, home to the Divine Presence, as well as their motivation for this (their possessions), and the fact that Transjordan was conquered by the King of Assyria, and its residents were the first to go into Exile. 
This is hinted to by a verse in the book of Proverb (20, 21): “An estate may be gotten hastily at the beginning; but the end thereof shall not be blessed.”
Rashi explains there:
“An estate may be gotten hastily at the beginning – they hastened to take their portion first, for example, the tribes of Gad and Reuben who hastened to take their portion in Transjordan and stated at first that they would build sheepfolds for their cattle and cities for their children – they made what was primary as secondary for they mentioned their sheep before their children.
But the end thereof shall not be blessed – they were exiled a few years before the rest of the tribes as explicitly stated in Seder Olam and the Tanchuma midrash…”
 
Their preference for money and possessions in lieu of the values of sanctity and Divine Presence caused their exile.
 
Throughout Jewish history, the Torah and the Sages emphasized the value of cleaving unto God and not striving after money.  The Sages recount that 80% of the children of Israel did not want to leave Egypt, to be servants of God, to cleave unto
God, but preferred to remain in Egypt, and, therefore died during the plague of
Darkness in Egypt.  In the recitation of Shma we are commanded to love God, and the Torah emphasizes that one should love God­­ with one’s entire soul – even if he must suffer martyrdom – and his entire might, i.e. even if he has to give up all his possessions.  These Torah readings emphasize the true values that each Jew must instill in himself, and not superficial ones – not possessions nor money.  True values are:  to love one’s family, his land, above all, to love God.
 
comments: shlomo.pick@biu.ac.il