What motivates the Jewish people to sacrifice their lives for the State of Israel? Why do we go to such great lengths to protect this sliver of land the size of New Jersey? Would it not be easier to simply live in America where our lives are not threatened on a daily basis? These are questions that plague the Jewish people on a daily basis, but are more pressing during a time of war. I pray that through the merit of this Dvar Torah, our brothers and sisters fighting along the border of Gaza, and those that have entered, will succeed in Operation Protective Edge and will be protected.
At the end of Parashat Mattot Reuven and Gad request to reside on the west side of the Jordan River, outside of Israel. When Moshe heard that they did not want to live in Eretz Yisrael he immediately got fierce with them. He exclaimed,“Why do you dissuade the heart of Bnei Yisrael from crossing to the land that Hashem has given them?” (Bamidbar 32:7). He could not understand why they would not want to enter Israel. Even more so, Moshe continued, they had first hand knowledge of the episode with the spies. The spies returned with a negative report about the land and then “The wrath of Hashem burned on that day…and He made them wander in the wilderness for forty years” (10,13). Moshe was simply appalled that someone could make the same mistake again.
However, there may be a difference between the two cases, which may lend us to question why it was such a big deal this time around. When the spies scared the Jews from entering the Land, most of Bnei Yisrael cried out in fear. The spies managed to convince most of the Jewish people not to enter the Land of Israel. This was a terrible sin, which makes the punishment appropriate. However, Reuven and Gad were just two tribes, and were not trying to convince the nation to do anything. If they were only concerned for themselves, why did Moshe get so angry?
Rashi answers that Moshe understood their actions as potentially dangerous for the people. Moshe was concerned “for they [Bnei Yisrael] will be under the impression that you are afraid to cross because of the war and the strength of the towns and people” (7). Even though Reuven and Gad did not directly scare the people into crossing, it may have been implied. Even though Reuven and Gad themselves did not fear of crossing into the land, their actions may have been interpreted the wrong way. As a result, Moshe concluded, “If you will turn away from after Him, He will again let it rest in the wilderness, and you will destroy this entire people” (15). Moshe was trying to explain that if Bnei Yisrael were dissuaded from entering Eretz Yisrael they would be destroyed and Reuven and Gad would take the blame.
The message we can take from this episode is the importance of living in Eretz Yisrael. Hashem promised us the land and we will suffer the consequences if we portray that we do not believe in that ideal. We are supposed to help settle the land and fight for it, but if we do not do that, we may end up like the generation of the spies. In fact, when Reuven and Gad explained that they would fight to conquer the land, and then would also help settle it, Moshe and Hashem were okay with that. As long as they were not scared of living in the land, and as long as they join in building the country, then they will not be punished. We have to do our part and if we do, with God’s help we will succeed.
As Moshe concludes, “If you do this thing, if you arm yourselves before Hashem for the battle, and every armed man among you shall cross the Jordan before Hashem, until He drives out His enemy before Him, and the Land shall be conquered before Hashem…and this land shall be a heritage for you before Hashem” (20-22).