J.J Gross

What do galut Jews owe the State of Israel? (Matot-Massei)

The contemporary relevance of the decision by the tribes of Reuven, Gad and half of Menashe to reside outside of Eretz Israel is applicable to our times. As is Moshe’s ruling on their request, without input from Gd.

In Matot-Massei we come to, what I consider, one ofthe most important yet puzzling episodes since the yestziat Mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt. This is the request by the tribes of Reuven, Gad and half of Menashe to set up shop outside of Eretz Canaan.

I would like to discuss this episode from two different aspects; the literal story and what makes it relevant today; plus aspects of the story that should beg some very serious questions.

Two and a half tribes (Gad, Reuven and half of Menashe) apparently very wealthy and loaded with cattle prefer the rich grazing lands of Yaazer and Gilead, and decide they want to settle where they are, rather than in the Promised Land.

As they tell Moshe;

וַיֹּאמְרוּ, אִם-מָצָאנוּ חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ–יֻתַּן אֶת-הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת לַעֲבָדֶיךָ, לַאֲחֻזָּה:  אַל-תַּעֲבִרֵנוּ, אֶת-הַיַּרְדֵּן.

And they said: ‘If we have found favor in thy sight, let this land be given unto thy servants for a possession; bring us not over the Jordan.’ (Bamidbar/Numbers32:5)

Moshe is enraged, accusing them of repeating the sin of the spies  בְּשָׁלְחִי אֹתָם “when I dispatched them” (32:8), and that this request would וַיָּנִיאוּ, אֶת-לֵב בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל–לְבִלְתִּי-בֹא, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-נָתַן לָהֶם, יְהוָה. “diminish the resolve of the Children of Israel from crossing into the land that G-d gave them”.(32:9)

Clearly Moshe is here taking responsibility for having sent the spies in the first place. He rebukes these tribes as one would rebuke the wicked son of the Passover Haggadah, accusing them of excluding themselves from the ‘klal’.

The problem is resolved when these tribes offer to not only participate, but take the lead in the conquest of Canaan, but only after first building their sheepfolds.

Moshe then declares that if they do not live up to their promise to lead the way into the battle for Canaan their punishment would be to have to settle in Eretz Israel proper וְאִם-לֹא יַעַבְרוּ חֲלוּצִים, אִתְּכֶם–וְנֹאחֲזוּ בְתֹכְכֶם, בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן “And if they will not cross over as fighters with you, then they shall settle among you in the land of Canaan”-(32:30) Such a punishment hardly seems a fate worse than death, to be forced to live in the Promised Land, heaven forbid.

We live today in a strange Jewish world in which a significant percentage of identifying, observant, Israel-loving Jews choose to live in the diaspora. No doubt there are those who simply cannot afford to settle in Israel. But then there are many who can easily do so.

They buy luxurious homes in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, thereby driving up real estate prices so that those who actually live here cannot afford homes.

They send their children here for yearlong, all expenses paid parties called ‘gap year yeshivot’.

They breeze in for Sukkot and Pesach (unless there is a better deal in Miami Beach) as if they own the Land. Yet, they make no sacrifices for the Jewish State while exploiting it for all it’s worth. Why, they even buy up El Al, the national airline, using money through questionable hanky-panky with American government funds that were apparently earmarked for the elderly.

Moshe is incensed by such selfishness. He realizes that all this achieves is to make those who actually live in Israel feel like ‘freierim’ (suckers). Is it any wonder that New York, LA, Miami and London are full of ex-Israelis who do little to enhance the image our State, when there is no price to pay and no shame in raising English-speaking children on distant shores with, at best, a tenuous connection to the Land? Is it not pathetic when ex-Israelis gather for a Passover seder in New York or Miami Beach and nostalgically sing their old army songs while their barely-Jewish kids yawn or play games on their Apple 14s?

Yet who is to blame for this sorry spectacle?

The fault can in large measure be placed on the shoulders of diaspora Jews who can afford to buy the very best of Israel while paying the very least for the privilege.

The solution to this problem is in our parsha. Moshe seems to acquiesce to the power of unfettered greed, but not without first exacting a price.

If anything, the sons of willfully galut Jews who ‘love’ Israel should be on the front lines when they turn 18, not partying for a year in a country that is protected by their peers, while being fed nonsense by opportunistic rabbis, and doing make-believe ‘chesed’ on alternate Tuesday afternoons.

So much for contemporary relevance.

Now let us analyze the narrative itself which is remarkable in key aspects. As you will recall, the parsha begins with G-d’s ordering an attack on Midian which is to be followed by Moshe reporting in for the conclusion of his life on earth.

Up to this point, Moshe never takes matters into his own hands, and is always consulting with G-d even regarding minor matters such as the inheritance of the Daughters of Tzelafehad which is reprised in Pashat Massei (36:6-10). Yet when it comes to something truly major, even deal-breaking, such as the demand by over ten percent of the Bnei Israel to NOT settle in the land promised them by G-d himself, Moshe chooses to make the decision unilaterally. There is no hint of him consulting with the Almighty. Astounding!

Furthermore, Moshe’s’ initial response already demonstrates that he will capitulate. If not, why did he not simply say “NO”? How dare Reuven, Gad and half of Menashe even think of rejecting G-d’s promised land – a land they had not yet even bothered to see for themselves – simply because they are greedy for easy grazing for their huge wealth of livestock.

Can there be any greater hutzpah than this?

And then when Moshe accepts the terms they offer, namely to lead the invasion into Canaan, he declares that should they renege they would have to live in Eretz Israel proper, as if this would indeed be a punishment.

Can it be that Moshe does not consult G-d because he knows his next appointment with the Almighty is the termination of his leadership? Could it be that by sort of annexing Gilead to the Land of Israel, Moshe is somehow insinuating himself in the Land despite G-d’s declared wish for this not to happen, i.e. he is creating facts on the ground?

To say this is all very troubling is to seriously understate the case.

I would like to conclude with two verses from Parshat Massei which require no explanation and are terrifyingly relevant to this very moment in time:

וְאִם-לֹא תוֹרִישׁוּ אֶת-יֹשְׁבֵי הָאָרֶץ, מִפְּנֵיכֶם–וְהָיָה אֲשֶׁר תּוֹתִירוּ מֵהֶם, לְשִׂכִּים בְּעֵינֵיכֶם וְלִצְנִינִם בְּצִדֵּיכֶם; וְצָרְרוּ אֶתְכֶם–עַל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם יֹשְׁבִים בָּהּ

But if ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then shall those that you let remain of them be as thorns in your eyes, and as pricks in your sides, and they shall harass you in the land wherein ye dwell,

וְהָיָה, כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּמִּיתִי לַעֲשׂוֹת לָהֶם–אֶעֱשֶׂה לָכֶם

And it shall come to pass, that as I thought to do unto them, so will I do unto you (Bamidbar/Numbers 33: 55-57)

About the Author
J.J Gross is a veteran creative director and copywriter, who made aliyah in 2007 from New York. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a lifelong student of Bible and Talmud. He is also the son of Holocaust survivors from Hungary and Slovakia.
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