The richer they come, the harder they fall

Jordan Belfort came from a nice Jewish family in the Bronx with plans to become a dentist. When told this would not make him rich, Belfort moved to peddling penny stocks and defrauding investors. He became rich as well as addicted to drugs and prostitutes. Eventually, Belfort was indicted, convicted and sentenced to four years and fined $110.4 million. So much for the money.

Years later, Belfort explained his fall: “I got greedy. Greed is not good. Ambition is good. Passion is good.”

At the end of their 40 years in the desert, the Jewish people got into some big money. Their war with Midian reaped a huge amount of gold, silver and especially livestock. Most of the tribes went back to their daily lives and prepared for their entry to the Land of Canaan.

Not Gad. Although one of the smaller tribes, Gad was known as fierce warriors, and in the war with Midian the tribe took home more loot than anybody else. They were rich and like Jordan Belfort they changed. The tribe lost its passion and became obsessed with money.

In this week’s Torah portion, Gad formulated a plan. They presented a cogent argument to Moses, Elazar the High Priest and the elders that they were burdened with a huge flock of sheep, goats and cows. The Land of Canaan was too small for them. They wanted to stay on the eastern bank of the Jordan River and raise their flock in the vast desert. They insisted that they weren’t betraying the other tribes: G-d had made the miracle for the Jews to defeat the kingdoms, and so Gad was simply following divine will.

To bolster their position, Gad brought along the tribe of Reuven, the eldest son of the patriarch Jacob. Gad told Reuven that the desert was too big for one tribe and offered them to settle south along the Dead Sea. Reuven, who saw his birthright taken from him, agreed.

Soon, Menashe expressed interest as well. Gad offered them an even bigger tract that reached the Golan Heights. The tribes then came to the leaders with maps of the cities they sought.

“The land that the Lord struck down before the congregation of Israel is a land for livestock, and your servants have livestock,” the tribes said. “They said, “If it pleases you, let this land be given to your servants as a heritage; do not take us across the Jordan.”

Moses was upset. Three out of 12 tribes refusing to live in the Land could only spell tragedy. Why would the others agree to cross the Jordan if the richest of the Jews insisted on staying put? After all, the rich usually know more than the poor.

Gad and his allies played it cool. They said they would fight for the Land, deployed along the front lines. They wouldn’t return to their new homes across the Jordan until the Land of Canaan was conquered and divided among the other tribes. Moses gave in.

What sounded like a reasonable deal concealed the worst instincts of Gad, Reuven and Menashe. They had become trapped by their money and possessions. Their families came second. Their service to G-d dissipated.

What does a society driven by money look like. The Midrash explains what happened to the Jewish region in the east. Greed became the norm. The tribes did not want the restrictions of inheritance, so the Jews married gentiles where these laws did not apply. The remaining Jewish women were disenfranchised.

Might became right. Murder and pillage spread throughout the land. Many of the cities of refuge for accused murderers were established on the eastern side of the Jordan. The young were shunned by the Jewish leaders and turned to a life of crime. One of them was Yiftah, recruited to become the judge who saved Israel.

Jordan Belfort never lost his passion for money. He converted his rags-to-riches-to-jail story into a bestseller and a movie that starred Leonardo DiCaprio. He earned up to $80,000 per speech.

The FBI grabbed most of the money, saying Belfort owed it to the thousands of people he had defrauded. In the end, he became a victim when a hacker stole $300,000 from Belfort’s so-called cryptocurrency wallet.

Living in a society based on money made Gad, Reuven and Menashe an easy target as well. Throughout much of its existence, the eastern region was occupied by neighboring tribes. Finally, the Assyrians invaded and drove out what remained of the tribes. The Jews in the Land of Israel did not intervene.

Of the three, Gad fared the worst. The name of the tribe, which shifted loyalties between the rival kingdoms of Israel, went missing in many accounts in Scriptures. It wasn’t even clear where Gad had lived. Here’s how Ecclesiastes 5:12 summed up the lesson of Gad.

“There is a painful evil that I have seen under the sun — riches preserved for their owners to their detriment.”

About the Author
Steve Rodan has been a journalist for some 40 years and worked for major media outlets in Israel, Europe and the United States. For 18 years, he directed Middle East Newsline, an online daily news service that focused on defense, security and energy. Along with Elly Sinclair, he has just released his first book: In Jewish Blood: The Zionist Alliance With Germany, 1933-1963 and available on Amazon.

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