The path of priorities: Moshe's guidance on balancing livestock and loved ones

  (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The Torah passages and Israel's holidays are full of important messages that are relevant and empower our day-today lives. Rabbi Shai Tahan, head of the Sha'arei Ezra community and head of the Arzi HaLebanon teaching house, opens the gates for us to understand these messages, from their source, in a clear way. This week: "The Path of Priorities: Moshe's Guidance on Balancing Livestock and Loved Ones"

The story of Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven is a narrative found in Parashat Matot. It recounts the events surrounding two of the twelve tribes of Israel, the tribes of Gad and Reuven, as they requested to settle on the eastern side of the Jordan River, outside the land of Canaan.

The story begins during the Israelites' final journey through the wilderness. After spending several years in the desert, they arrived at the borders of the land of Canaan, which was promised to them by Hashem. 

The tribes of Gad and Reuven, known for their large herds of livestock, approached Moshe with a request. They expressed their desire to settle on the eastern side of the Jordan River, where the land was well-suited for their livestock. They believed that the conquered territories of Sihon and Og, kings of the Amorites, would be an ideal location for them.

Moshe was initially hesitant and concerned that this request might discourage the other tribes from fulfilling their obligations in conquering the land of Canaan. However, the leaders of Gad and Reuven assured Moshe that they would fully support the rest of the tribes in their conquest of Canaan. They pledged to send their armed men to fight alongside their brothers until the land was completely conquered.

Satisfied with their commitment, Moshe granted their request, with the condition that the tribes of Gad and Reuven would fulfill their promise. The tribes accepted this condition and, together with the half-tribe of Manasseh, settled on the eastern side of the Jordan River

Upon hearing their request, Moshe became concerned. He saw their prioritization of their cattle over their families as a potential lack of commitment to the larger goals of the community. Moshe believed that their duty as members of the Israelite community was to first secure the Promised Land and settle there, rather than focusing solely on their personal interests.

In response to their request, Moshe sternly rebuked the tribes of Gad and Reuven. He reminded them of the earlier incident involving the twelve spies, where the Israelites' lack of faith in God's promises resulted in forty years of wandering in the wilderness. Moshe feared that their desire to settle on the eastern side of the Jordan might discourage the rest of the tribes from fulfilling their obligations to conquer the land of Canaan as a united people.

Rashi points out an interesting exchange between Moshe and the tribes of Gad and Reuven, as the tribes initially stated their intention to prioritize settling their cattle before attending to the needs of their families and children.

In response to the tribes' statement, Moshe rebuked them, explaining that their priorities were misguided. He emphasized that their responsibility was to prioritize the needs of their families and ensure their safety and security above all else.

But one might ask, Didn't they know better? Who would prioritize their sheep and cows over their family? Instead, we must consider that their intention was not to neglect their families, but rather to seek a place that would provide them with sufficient resources to ensure the welfare of their loved ones. This desire to secure a livelihood for their families is a common motivation behind people's decisions to move to places that offer economic opportunities.

If that was the case, then why did Moshe criticize them? The answer lies in Moshe's perception that their words suggested a prioritization of wealth over their families. It seemed to Moshe that their focus was primarily on their possessions rather than solely on their families' well-being. This distinction troubled Moshe, as he sensed that their motives extended beyond their families' welfare and were rooted in their attachment to material possessions.

In conclusion, this thought-provoking exchange between Moshe and the tribes of Gad and Reuven serves as a timeless reminder of the importance of aligning our priorities with our values, recognizing the significance of family, and being mindful of the potential pitfalls of material possessions.

This article was written in cooperation with Shuva Israel