Matot: Apart or A Part

In Parshat Matot, the tribes of Reuven and Gad approach Moshe, Elazaar the Kohen, and the heads of the assembly with a special request to inherit the land east of the Jordan river as opposed to settling in Israel.

Numbers 32:1

The children of Reuven and the children of Gad had an abundance of livestock very numerous and they saw the land of Jazer and the land of Gilead, and behold, the place was a place for livestock.

Or Hachayim informs us that due to their military prowess they attained more livestock than the other tribes.

It appears that Rueven and Gad were diplomatic and tactical when they requested permission to not cross the Jordan.

Numbers 32: 2-5

The descendants of Gad and the descendants of Reuben came, and they spoke to Moses and to Eleazar the kohen and to the princes of the community, saying, Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, and Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo, and Beon, the land that the Lord struck down before the congregation of Israel is a land for livestock, and your servants have livestock. If it pleases you, let this land be given to your servants as a heritage; do not take us across the Jordan.

They enumerated all the places that the nation defeated in battle due in large part to their participation. This emphasis not only highlighted their contribution to the nation thus far, but bolstered their request to inhabit these particular places that were now free to be occupied in large part to their military skill. They were clever in simply alluding to all they had done while verbally giving credit to God. They knew full well the leaders had complete faith in God and that if He promised them they would conquer the land they would do so successfully with or without Gad and Reuven’s participation. They hoped to preempt the leaders from proclaiming that they were needed due to their military prowess by reminding them that it is in fact God that wins the wars and not the tribes. They did not fully understand the depth of what they were giving up. Not only were they needed for battle, but they had a responsibility to be part of a nation.

Moshe’s dismay at their request was abundantly clear in his lengthy response.

Numbers 32:6-15

Shall your brethren go to war while you stay here?
Why do you discourage the children of Israel from crossing over to the land which the Lord has given them? This is what your fathers did when I sent them from Kadesh barnea to explore the Land.They went up to the Valley of Eshkol and saw the land, and they discouraged the children of Israel from crossing into the land which the Lord has given them. The anger of the Lord flared on that day, and He swore, saying, None of the men from the age of twenty years and over who came out of Egypt will see the land that I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, for they did not follow Me wholeheartedly, except for Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizite and Joshua the son of Nun, for they followed the Lord wholeheartedly.’The anger of the Lord flared against Israel, and He made them wander in the desert for forty years until the entire generation who had done evil in the eyes of the Lord had died out. And behold, you have now risen in place of your fathers as a society of sinful people, to add to the wrathful anger of the Lord against Israel. If you turn away from following Him, He will leave you in the desert again, and you will destroy this entire people.

”Shall your brethren go to war while you stay here?”

Moshe’s response emphasized that this has nothing to do with faith. Their request displayed a lack of consideration for their brethren. Moshe was indicating that they had an obligation to support the others emotionally and physically regardless of who it is that wins the battles for them. He went on to tell them that they were going to discourage the nation as did the spies who saw that the land was good and yet instilled fear in the hearts of the people by focusing on the wars instead of inspiring them to inherit this good land.

Moshe equated their request to the behavior of the spies who did not follow Hashem wholeheartedly. If the tribes of Reuven and Gad don’t enter the land of Israel and fight alongside their brothers, the nation may panic, thinking why else would these mighty tribes refuse to fight if not for fear of the inhabitants or rejection of the good land that God had promised them. Their declaration of faith in God as He who wins wars is only partial emunah (faith). They may claim to believe that it is God that destroys the enemy, but what of  faith that the land that God promised is the land which is best for them.

The response of Reuven and Gad is as follows:

Numbers 32:16-19

They approached him and said, “We will build sheepfolds for our livestock here and cities for our children. We will then arm ourselves quickly [and go] before the children of Israel until we have brought them to their place. Our children will reside in the fortified cities on account of the inhabitants of the land.We shall not return to our homes until each of the children of Israel has taken possession of his inheritance.For we will not inherit with them on the other side of the Jordan and beyond, because our inheritance has come to us on the east bank of the Jordan.

The word they approached, , וַיִּגְּשׁ֤וּ hearkens back to parshat Vayigash when Yehuda approached Yosef to beg him to release Binyamin from Egypt allowing his return to his father. It is only when Yehuda explains to Yosef that he promised his father to return Binyamin by assuming responsibility (areivut) for him that Yosef broke down and acquiesced to Yehuda’s plea. Areivut is a binding of one life with another. It was only when Yehuda promised areivut with Binyamin that Yaakov agreed to let him return to Egypt with him. So too when the tribes of Gad and Reuven approached Moshe, they powerfully employed areivut to convince Moshe. They said they would go with them and not return to their homes on the eastern side of the Jordan until they made sure that each one of the tribes successfully took possession of their land.

Moshe then responds,

Numbers 32: 20-24

If you do this thing, if you arm yourselves for battle before the Lord,and your armed force crosses the Jordan before the Lord until He has driven out His enemies before Him,and the Land will be conquered before the Lord, afterwards you may return, and you shall be freed [of your obligation] from the Lord and from Israel, and this land will become your heritage before the Lord.But, if you do not do so, behold, you will have sinned against the Lord, and be aware of your sin which will find you.So build yourselves cities for your children and enclosures for your sheep, and what has proceeded from your mouth you shall do.

Moshe, who longed so deeply to enter the land, must have been sorely disappointed by their rejection of the land but nevertheless was persuaded by their promise of areivut with the brothers. However, he added, they must take caution to make good on their promise or they “will have sinned against the Lord” which echoes Judah’s words to Yaakov when he convinced him that they must return to Egypt with Binyamin.

Genesis 43: 8-9

And Judah said to Israel, his father, “Send the lad with me, and we will get up and go, and we will live and not die, both we and you and also our young children.I will guarantee him; from my hand you can demand him. If I do not bring him to you and stand him up before you, I will have sinned against you forever.(אָֽנֹכִי֙ אֶֽעֶרְבֶ֔נּוּ מִיָּדִ֖י תְּבַקְשֶׁ֑נּוּ אִם־לֹ֨א הֲבִֽיאֹתִ֤יו אֵלֶ֨יךָ֙ וְהִצַּגְתִּ֣יו לְפָנֶ֔יךָ וְחָטָ֥אתִי לְךָ֖ כָּל־הַיָּמִֽים)

Ultimately Moshe was convinced to accede to the request of Reuven and Gad when they promised to tie their mission and life with that of the rest of the nation. Moshe saw that he could not force the tribes of Gad and Reuven to desire the land. They were adamant in their last statement “we will not inherit with them on the other side of the Jordan and beyond, because our inheritance has come to us on the east bank of the Jordan.” However at the very least he insisted that they fight with the other tribes and ensure their settlement in the Promised Land.

It is imperative that we forever adhere to the concept of areivut ensuring the safety and security of one another and we should not rest if the existence of our brother is in jeopardy. We must look out for one another, fight for one another and be there for one another despite the distance between us. Our nation’s existence depends on it.

About the Author
Aliza Lipkin fufilled her biggest dream by making Aliya in 2003 from the US. She resides happily in a wonderful community in Maaleh Adumim with her family. She is a firm lover and believer in her country, her people and her G-d. Her mission is to try and live a moral and ethical life while spreading insights based on Torah values to bring people closer together and help build a stronger nation.
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