Parshas - Mattos/Masei 5762
Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
With All Due Respect - Opposing Questions
In parshas Matos, members of the tribes of Re'uven, Shimon, and
Menashe approach Moshe with a surprising request [32:1-5]:
The land [the Trans-Jordan] that Hashem smote before
the congregation of Israel, it is a land suitable for
livestock - and your servants have livestock! If we have
found favour in your eyes, let this land be given to your
servants as an inheritance; do not force us to cross the
Jordan [and inherit Canaan with the rest of Israel].
Their request takes Moshe completely off guard. Here he had spent
the last forty years of his life leading a fledgling nation through a
desert wasteland - all in the hope that they would eventually inherit
The Land. Moshe himself wanted nothing more dearly than to join his
flock in crossing the Jordan, yet he had already been informed by G-
d that such would not be the case. And now, they come and request
that their inheritance be given them in the Trans-Jordan?! Moshe
feared that if these 2« tribes would not join them in the difficult task
of conquering the "31 kings" now in possession of Canaan, perhaps
other tribes would fall prey to fear and apprehension, and everything
he had worked for would in a moment be destroyed! He spares no
words in criticizing them about the detrimental implications of their
Moshe said to the children of Gad and Re'uven: Shall
your brothers go out to war, while you settle here? Why
do you dissuade the heart of the Children of Israel from
crossing [the Jordan] to the Land that Hashem has given
them? This is just like what your fathers [i.e. the Spies -
see Bamidbar ch. 13-14] did when I sent them to see the
Land... they dissuaded the heart of the Children of Israel
not to come to the Land that Hashem has given them...
And behold - you have risen up in place of your fathers,
a group of sinful people, to add to Hashem's burning
wrath against Israel!...
B'nei Gad and Re'uven answer that in fact they had never intended
to remain on the other side of the Jordan while their brothers waged
war over Israel. They had every intention of going along for the battle.
Indeed, they would willingly place themselves in the "front-line." They
would leave their wives and children here, and would return to the
Trans-Jordan only after the Land was conquered and their brothers
securely settled in their Homeland. Hearing this, Moshe's anger is
placated, and after some complicated legal negotiations, a deal is
The obvious question is: Why did B'nei Gad and Re'uven allow
Moshe to go on lecturing them for 10 verses about the sinfulness of
their ways, if they knew that he plainly misunderstood their intentions.
Why didn't they stop him immediately: "Moshe - Moshe, please!
There's been a misunderstanding..."?
The standard answer is that it would have been a shame to pass up
such a ripe opportunity to hear a "mussar derasha" (ethical
discourse), albeit misplaced, from their beloved leader. Although they
knew he misunderstood them, they still cherished his words of
wisdom, and thus allowed him to go on.
Perhaps, though, there is an even simpler answer.
A true story: A yeshiva bachur approached his rebbe with a question
about parshas Chayei Sarah (Bereishis/Genesis 24): When Eliezer is
sent by Avraham to look for a bride for Yitzchak, he finds Rivkah,
daughter of Besuel, by a well. He is instantly taken by her piety, and
asks to see her father to request that she become Yitzchak's wife.
After presenting his case, her family prepares their answer [24:50]:
Then Laban and Besuel answered and said: The matter
comes from Hashem; we can say neither good nor bad...
Rashi comments: "From here we see that Lavan was a wicked
man, for he hastened to speak before his father." "Now," asked the
bachur, "I could have understood that Rashi would consider Lavan
ill-mannered or even contemptible for jumping in before his father -
but 'wicked?' Just because he spoke up before his father? Isn't that
taking things a bit too far?"
"You know," said the rebbe, "that's interesting. You are bothered by
this question. A few generations ago, the holy K'sav Sofer (quoting
Sh'ela) was perplexed by the opposite question! He asks: Sure, Lavan
was a wicked man. But even the most evil and sinful people have
some respect for their parents. How is it possible that even Lavan
could have stooped so low?! (He answers that it was intentional
rudeness on Lavan's part, in order to put off Eliezer through his
repulsive behaviour.) I guess it all depends which generation you grew
up in. For the K'sav Sofer, this was a question. And for you - the
opposite is a question!"
Perhaps our questioning why B'nei Gad and B'nei Re'uven didn't cut
Moshe off, allowing him to continue with his misplaced derasha
uninterrupted, in fact demonstrates a complete lack of understanding
of what it means to fear one's rebbe. They were likely in such awe of
Moshe's presence that the idea of interrupting him mid-speech was
one that simply never even entered their minds.
The Gemara (Pesachim 7a) addresses the following question: What
if a student, after coming to yeshiva to study Torah with his rebbe,
remembers that he left an unbaked dough at home that if left
unbaked will soon become chametz (leaven)? The Gemara says that
he may rely on bittul - he should nullify the dough in his heart,
rendering it like "the dust of the earth," so that even if it later leavens,
it will not be considered his chametz.
Rashi asks: Why rely on the halachically questionable premise of
bittul? Why doesn't he simply get up, go home, and bake the dough
before it rises? Impossible - says Rashi. The fear for his rebbe's
honour - that perhaps it would be disrespectful to interrupt his rebbe's
shiur - would never allow him to do so!
I fear that, in our generation, we wouldn't even consider not
interrupting the rebbe's shiur. After all, chametz on Pesach is no
small issue; we are talking about a very serious prohibition. How
different an attitude towards our teachers and our parents pervades
today's generation than that of generations past!
A while ago, the Jewish Observer ran a series of articles regarding
Children at Risk. The articles addressed why it is some Yeshiva
students are experiencing difficulties continuing on in the ways of
their parents and ancestors. Many of the writers, it seems, were of the
opinion that youth were being lost due to a lack of communication
between themselves and their parents, and the rigidity of their parents
in their unwillingness to consider the real challenges their children
I was asked at the time by someone to write an article which, they
said, would present another side of the story: That perhaps, by not
properly teaching our youth the halachos (laws) of derech eretz and
respect for their teachers and elders, we were quietly undermining
their ability to fear and submit to authority. That parents and
teachers - perhaps out of (misplaced?) kindness and permissiveness,
and in submission to the laissez-faire attitude that is the very
backbone of Western society - were not fulfilling their roles as
educators in teaching their children and students a critical lesson;
that authority must be feared and respected. And that if one lacks the
ability to fear and respect others, he will ultimately lack the ability to
fear G-d too.
In the end, I did not write the article. The point, however, I feel was
well taken. While there are many sides and many angles to the
"Children on the Fringe" debate, all of them with an element of truth,
this perspective certainly deserves a prominent place among them.
While it is easy for adults to bemoan the lack of respect of "today's
children," we must remind ourselves that it is we who are the
educators and role-models today's youth look towards for direction.
While it may at first seem self-serving, teaching fear and respect of
rebbes and parents and elders is a mitzvah as much as any of the
other 612 mitzvos. While change comes slowly, perhaps if we begin
to tip the scales ever-so-slightly away from permissiveness and over-
tolerance towards respect and even fear, then perhaps a time will
come when the Ksav Sofer's question will bother us as much as the
question of the yeshiva bachur...
Have a good Shabbos.
****** This week's publication is sponsored by R' Zalman
Deutsch, in honour of the Yortzeit of the holy Yismach
Moshe, R' Moshe Teitelbaum of Siget zy"a. And in honour
of the Yortzeit of the holy Rebbe of Bobov, R' Shlomo
Halberstam zy"a. And in honour of the Bar Mitzvah of
Yehoshua Sturm. ******
****** And by Mr. G. Isaac, in memory of his mother,
Pinia bas R' Eliezer ob"m, whose first Yortzeit is 27 Tamuz