Matos - Masei
by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"Build for yourselves cities for your small children, and enclosures for
your flocks, and that which comes from your mouths, you shall do." [32:24]
The tribes of Reuven and Gad, because they had large flocks, asked Moshe
for permission to settle on the east side of the Jordan River. Moshe
questioned them, criticizing them if they intended to "avoid the draft" and
leave the other tribes to worry about occupying the Land of Israel to the
west of the river, as G-d commanded. They insist, however, that they will
merely "build flock-enclosures for our possessions here, and cities for our
small children," [32:16] and will then lead the way, not returning home
until the other tribes have received their inheritance.
Moshe responds by saying essentially that they must do what they pledged.
They must quickly build cities and grazing areas, and then lead the way. If
they do so, then they will be "clean of sin before G-d and Israel, and will
inherit that land as their inheritance before G-d." [32:22]
Given that this is so, that Moshe simply told them to do as they had
promised, the response of the two tribes is surprising. "And the Children
of Gad and the Children of Reuven spoke to Moshe, saying, 'your servants
will do as our master commanded.'" [32:25] Are they doing what Moshe
commanded, or as they themselves pledged?
The Ksav Sofer, quoting from the Medrash, finds a very important
distinction. The two tribes said "we will build flock-enclosures for our
possessions here, and cities for our small children." Moshe, however,
reversed the order: "build for yourselves cities for your small children,
and enclosures for your flocks." The tribes of Gad and Reuven worried
first about their possessions, and then about their little children; Moshe
said to them, "do not make the trivial central." Put first things first --
build cities for your children, and then and only then ensure that your
flocks are properly protected.
When a person desires money, and is chasing after it, then you cannot rely
upon him and his commitments. Says the Ksav Sofer, his desire for money
will cause him to renege on those commitments if they stand in his way.
Only if the children of Reuven and Gad can reverse the order, and worry
about their families before their possessions, can they be trusted. This is
why Moshe concludes, "and that which comes from your mouths, you shall do."
If you take care of your families before your flocks, then you can be
trusted to meet your commitment to the nation as well.
It is natural for a person to feel attached to his possessions, and to
desire more. Only in the end are we reminded that "few people died wishing
they had spent more time at the office." We must remember that there are
higher priorities, and be sure to address them -- if we know which
commitments are most important, then people will know that they can rely
upon our commitments to them, as well.
Rabbi Yaakov Menken