1 Av, 5761
July 20-21, '01
What's a nice Jewish shepherd supposed to do?
The Children of Israel are now set to enter the land which G-d promised to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. Preparing for invasion from the east bank of the Jordan River, the twelve tribes look ahead towards the land which, with G-d's help, they will soon conquer. However, they can't help but also notice the land upon which they are encamped, which was conquered from Sichon and Og (part of modern-day Jordan). It is a rich grassy land, ideal for grazing sheep and goats. The tribes of Gad and Reuven notice this especially. They are blessed with large flocks.
Moshe, Elazer and the elders are approached. The tribes of Gad and Reuven have reached a decision. After the great Exodus from Egypt and forty years of wandering in the desert, waiting to enter the Promised Land, Gad and Reuven would like to remain put, on the rich ranges of the Transjordan, outside of Eretz Yisroel.
Moshe is shocked. What's the problem? Gad and Reuven, if you set up shop here in Jordan, you're going to weaken the will of the other tribes to cross over into Israel proper. They're going to think that you're afraid of going to battle against the Canaanite nations, and they're going to get scared too. It'll be like that whole mess with the spies all over again. (Paraphrase of Numbers 32:6-15.)
Immediately, the tribes of Gad and Reuven assuage Moshe's fears. Moshe, our dear teacher, we were never planning on not fighting alongside our brothers in the invasion of Israel. We're going to leave our families and possessions guarded here, and we'll lead the charge to invade the Promised Land. We won't come back until the Land of Israel is conquered and apportioned among the other tribes. Just let us keep this good grazing land over here. (Paraphrase of verses 16-19.)
What does Moshe respond to this clarification?
O.K. Let's just spell out the terms of the deal and agree. Then it's fine with me. (Paraphrase of verses 20-30.)
Does anything surprise us about this exchange?
Think about it yourselves for a minute before reading on… what's wrong with this picture?
Let's examine. What do Gad and Reuven want? Grazing land for their copious flocks. What mistake do they seem to be making? They're abandoning the Jewish dream of settling Eretz Yisroel for the chance to earn a few extra bucks. But what does Moshe chastise them for? For threatening to weaken the spirit of the other Jewish soldiers. What would we have expected Moshe to take issue with? Running away from Israel after the money.
What's going on here? What are we missing?
We're missing a very important point: the lesson we can learn from Gad and Reuven…
Every person is born with a unique mission in life. G-d creates each of us with a unique combination of strengths and abilities, talents and tendencies, as well as challenges and shortcomings. G-d chooses a special family for each of us to be born into and a unique position in that family. We are placed in a certain city among certain neighbors and a limited pool from which to choose our friends. All this is set up for us-a controlled environment within which we are intended to uncover our potential and exercise it. 'Our potential to do what?' you may ask. Our potential in
Kiddush HaShem: exercising our positive character traits in a manner which lends honor to the Creator Who bestowed them in us.
Kiddush HaShem, translated into English, means sanctifying G-d's Name. Every person in the world has a unique potential for sanctifying G-d's Name, based on the unique composition of his or her body, soul and environment. Nurturing and expressing this unique potential is our mission in life.
The generation that left Egypt was blessed with prophetic insight. The tribes of Gad and Reuven understood that their great wealth of sheep and goats was not an accident, but rather an essential part of their mission. Their portion in Kiddush HaShem was to utilize their wealth to serve G-d's interests in this world. Wealth can be a great means for accomplishing Kiddush HaShem, when it's
focused towards that end. In our times, we've seen many great demonstrations of this: of people who recognized their blessings, and
focused their labors on making G-d's Presence more apparent in the world. This was Gad and Reuven's goal for their wealth.
Moshe understood this. He did not chastise Gad and Reuven for their plan itself; only its potential negative consequences. Once Moshe was satisfied that these consequences could be avoided (by Gad and Reuven joining their brethren in battle) he had no reservations about their plan. Moshe doesn't have any problem with Gad and Reuven wanting to settle outside of the Land of Israel for the sake of their flocks, because he understood that that was the place where they could best fulfill their mission in life-their portion in Kiddush HaShem.
The second parsha this week, Mas'ei, begins with a list of all forty two stops that the Children of Israel made in their journeys through the Sinai desert. Why so much running around? Because each location in which we camped contained a unique challenge-a unique potential for Kiddush HaShem to be uncovered and expressed.
This too is the story of all our travels today, of the many different situations we encounter, sometimes sought out, sometimes fallen into. Every choice we are confronted with in our lives is an opportunity for Kiddush HaShem-sanctifying G-d's Name.
What an opportunity! What's a nice Jewish shepherd supposed to do? To tend the flock with which he or she is blessed, gently nurturing and guiding and always aspiring to reach the highest levels of Kiddush HaShem. Today, we do not possess the gift of prophecy. We have to employ our own insight to uncover the unique potential that G-d planted in each of us. But that insight is planted in us too, there for those who truly desire to discover what G-d wants from our lives.
(This week's Parsha Views in based on Michtav M'Eliyahu II, by Rav Eliyahu Dessler ob"m, p.254-261.)
Insights Into Exodus
Insights Into Leviticus
Insights into Numbers
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