by Zvi Akiva Fleisher
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SEDRAH SELECTIONS PARSHIOS MATOS-MASSEI 5770 BS"D
Ch. 31, v. 49: "V'lo nifkad mi'menu ish" - And not a man was missing - Juxtaposed to this is the episode of the bnei Reuvein and Bnei Gad negotiating with Moshe for possession of the trans-Jordanian lands as their portions instead of in Eretz Yisroel. As explained by Rashi, "v'lo nifkad" means that not a man was missing. The Medrash Shir Hashirim 4:2 says that this refers to spiritual matters. The bnei Yisroel had suffered greatly at the hands of the Midyonites as a result of their sinning with their daughters. Here they captured some women, and again there was the fear of improper behaviour, or at least, improper thoughts. The people reported to Moshe that not a man was lacking spiritually, i.e. that no one sinned even in the realm of thought with the captured women and girls. It was only after this that the bnei Reuvein and Gad even contemplated leaving their wives behind for numerous years, feeling confident that they would not sin with the women of Canaan. (Shomati)
Ch. 32, v. 14: "V'hi'nei kamtem tachas avoseichem tarbus anoshim chato'im" - And behold you have stood in the place of your fathers a society of sinners - The medrash says that Moshe was correct in telling them off, but he shouldn't have mentioned that their fathers, who were already deceased, were also sinners. For this generational criticism he was punished in kind, and his grandson became an idol worshipper or attendant.
Ch. 32, v. 19: "Ki VO'oh nachalo'seinu eileinu mei'eiver haYardein" - Because our land heritage HAS COME to us on the other side of the Jordan - I cite a few more verses in this episode of the bnei Reuvein, bnei Gad, and half of the bnei Menasheh's receiving their land apportionment on the trans-Jordanian side:
Verse 22 - "V'nich'b'shoh ho'oretz lifnei Hashem v'achar toshuvu ……. V"HOYSOH ho'oretz hazose lochem laachuzoh lifnei Hashem."
Verse 29 - "Va'yomer Moshe a'leihem im yaavru …… lamilchomoh …… UNSA'TEM lo'hem es eretz haGilod laachuzoh."
Verse 32 - "V'ITONU nachalo'seinu mei'eiver laYardein."
Verse 33 - "VA'YITEIN lohem Moshe …… es mamleches Sichon melech hoEmori v'es mamleches Og melech haBoshon."
I have capitalized all words that indicate the giving of the trnas-Jordanian lands BEFORE or AFTER the conquest of Eretz Yisroel. This is the point of disagreement that we will explore.
Besides the negotiation of these tribes to have the lands formerly belonging to Sichon and Og on the east side of the Jordan River to be their land apportionments, a second issue is at hand. Rashi brings this to our attention here in verse 19. The verse says "ki VO'oh nachalo'seinu ei'leinu." As is well known to those who know it well, there is a difference between "BO'oh," accent on the first syllable, and "bo'OH," accent on the last syllable. Rashi by the story of Yaakov meeting Rochel (Breishis 29:6) points out that in that verse it says, "Rochel bo'OH," accent on last syllable, it means "Rochel IS coming," while in verse 9, where is says, "V'Rochel BO'oh," accent on first syllable, it means "Rochel HAS come." Similarly, in our verse it says, "ki VO'oh nachalo'seinu," - our land apportionment HAS COME to us. The two tribes not only agreed to Moshe's conditions, but even went beyond them by committing themselves to stay on in Eretz Yisroel after warring with its inhabitants and seeing that the tribes were settled into their land inheritance. However, they clearly stated that they agreed to all of this provided that they have the trans-Jordanian lands allotted to them NOW, "VO'oh." (See Ramban) In verse 29 we find Moshe exhorting Elozor, Yehoshua, and the tribal family heads upon the completion of fulfillment of the conditions to THEN GIVE the trans-Jordanian lands to these tribes, "UNSA'TEM lo'hem es eretz haGilod laachuzoh."
Clearly, Moshe did not agree to their stipulation.
In verse 32 we have the tribes again say the same point, "V'ITONU nachalo'seinu mei'eiver laYardein." In the first half of the verse they agreed to the clause of going to war hand in hand with the rest of the bnei Yisroel in Eretz Yisroel, but not to having to wait for the trans-Jordanian lands to become theirs only afterwards. "We will go out to do war fully armed, but only when "v'itonu nachalo'seinu."
In verse 33 we have, "Va'yitein lohem Moshe," that Moshe acquiesced and GAVE them the lands NOW, BEFORE they would join in the war effort. The Sforno on verse 33 comments that Moshe gave in to this request simply to avoid arguing with them. We will get back to this point and see that this was not a simple matter, and was a major sacrifice on Moshe's part.
The Shem miShmuel takes note of two issues at play here. One is the overt matter Moshe brought to these tribes attention, that they would weaken the resolve of the others and that their request was simply unfair. It sounds as if these issues could be alleviated then their living on the trans-Jordanian side would be quite acceptable. The Shem miShmuel cites a verse in Yehoshua 29, which says that the lands outside Eretz Yisroel are defiled, so why didn't Moshe add to his list of grievances that it is morally unacceptable to choose to live outside of Eretz Yisroel when the opportunity to live there exists?
He cites a medrash in parshas R'ei, which says that Syria was not accorded equal sanctity as Eretz Yisroel after King Dovid's conquest. Even though the verse in Dvorim 11:24 says, "Kol hamokome asher tidroch kaf rag'l'chem bo lochem yi'h'yeh" (Once mentioning this verse I will mention an issue that has been plaguing me for a while. Yehoshua makes mention of this verse right in the beginning of Sefer Yehoshua (1:3), where it likewise says, "Kol mokome asher tidroch kaf rag'l'chem bo lochem yi'h'yeh." However, the word "mokome" has no definitive letter Hei as its prefix, and in the Torah it says "HAmokome." Why the difference?), and we derive from the word "kol" that this is true even of areas outside of the Eretz Yisroel boundary, i.e. that upon conquest they will also become Eretz Yisroel with its inherent sanctity and laws, nevertheless this does not apply to Syria. Why? The medrash goes on to say that Hashem reprimanded King Dovid and said, "Before you go out to Syria and conquer it why don't you conquer areas that are near My palace?" In other words, the verse cited here, "kol hamokome," only applies when we accord Eretz Yisroel its proper respect, totally conquering it and having control over it BEFORE conquering areas outside of original Eretz Yisroel boundaries as outlined in parshas Massei. King Dovid at that time still did not have areas occupied by the Y'vusim vanquished.
The medrash says that the areas in which Reuvein, Gad, and half of Menasheh resided do not have the same level of sanctity as actual Eretz Yisroel. (There are varying opinions of Tano'im regarding this matter.) Asks the Shem miShmuel: "This is well understood by Syria, as nothing compelled King Dovid to enter into war with it at that time, before all of Eretz Yisroel was in his control, but the lands of Sichon and Og were not vanquished by choice. The bnei Yisroel were denied ingress to pass through and enter Eretz Yisroel. Both Sichon and Og began wars against the bnei Yisroel. Once the bnei Yisroel vanquished them and had control of their lands how can we fault them for doing this before they entered Eretz Yisroel?"
He answers that we must say that although this situation was forced upon them, out of reverence for Eretz Yisroel, they nevertheless should not have taken possession of these lands as their apportionment before the bnei Yisroel conquered Eretz Yisroel (whether or not they would go along to fight). They insisted that they take possession immediately, PRIOR to crossing the Jordan and embarking on the upcoming wars. Not according Eretz Yisroel its due respect impacted on the sanctity of the trans-Jordan and it remains on a lower level than Eretz Yisroel proper. To somewhat placate Moshe they offered more than he requested, i.e. that they would remain in Eretz Yisroel and help tend to the settling of the tribes into their allotted areas, as recorded in verse 18, "Lo noshuv el bo'teinu ad hisnacheil bnei Yisroel ish nachaloso," and only then go back to their families on the trans-Jordanian side. Notwithstanding this magnanimous offer, they still insisted that they take legal possession of the lands of Sichon and Og PRIOR to embarking on the conquest of Eretz Yisroel.
Says the Shem miShmuel, Moshe did not bring up the issue of their forsaking the land that has full sanctity for "chutz lo'oretz," as he expected them to not take ownership immediately, and then when the conquest of Eretz Yisroel would be completed AHEAD of their settling into the trans-Jordanian lands, those lands would also be accorded full Eretz Yisroel sanctity.
Given all of the above the obvious question is: Why were the bnei Reuvein and bnei Gad so dead set on taking legal possession of these lands before conquering Eretz Yisroel? The Malbim says that there was a "frum" angle to this. They picked up Moshe's jargon and also said "lifnei Hashem" in verse 27, "Vaavo'decho yaavru kol chalutz tzovo LIFNEI Hashem lamilchomoh." What they meant was that they felt that to be successful in the war arena they needed a special merit. This was that they would have absolutely no personal agenda. Once Moshe said that they would not own the trans-Jordanian lands unless they would join their brethren in warring in Eretz Yisroel, they felt that if they were not given actual ownership of the lands before embarking on the war in Eretz Yisroel, they would have a personal agenda in mind when warring, namely to gain possession of the lands they so coveted on the east of the Jordan river. If given immediate ownership they would be able to do battle "lifnei Hashem" i.e. totally for the sake of Hashem's command to enter into war. Without this merit they felt that they would not be successful.
(The fact that the other tribes would not have this merit is a moot point. There was no way of their taking possession pre-war as it wasn't in their control. Alternatively, the bnei Gad and bnei Reuvein felt they needed extra merit to be successful at the HEAD of the regiments. n.l.)
Note the use of the term "lifnei Hashem" appears liberally in this episode, in verses 20 and 21, in verse 22 twice, and in verses 27,29, and 32. See the Baal haturim who makes note of this and explains its repetitive use.
We have two explanations of these words, that of the Ohr Hachaim Hakodosh in verse 22, meaning that the land would be "in front of Hashem" i.e. in very close proximity to Eretz Yisroel as there were no intervening lands, and the Malbim's verse 27 explanation, that it means totally committed to Hashem, with no personal agenda. I leave the numerous other mentions of this term for you to work out.
Given all of the above, a STARTLING lesson emerges in how far one must go to avoid conflict. As mentioned earlier, the Sforno says that Moshe acquiesced to their demands simply to avoid conflict. The Shem miShmuel said that the missed opportunity of these lands being invested with "kedushas Eretz Yisroel" was at stake, and that unfortunately, it was not to be. We all know that Moshe longed to enter Eretz Yisroel. The medrash on parshas v'Zose Habrochoh says that he entreated Hashem to enter as a common man, not a leader, and was denied, even as an animal, and was again denied. Moshe was told that he was denied to even have his body be interred in Eretz Yisroel. He lies in "chutz lo'oretz" for thousands of years. Had he INSISTED that the bnei Reuvein and bnei Gad not take possession of the trans-Jordanian lands until AFTER the conquest and settling of the tribes in Eretz Yisroel so that basic Eretz Yisroel be accorded proper honour, 14 years later these lands would have been EQUAL in sanctity with Eretz Yisroel, and even though for 14 years he would have been buried in "chutz lo'oretz," when the tribes of Reuvein and Gad would help conquer and have Eretz Yisroel settled he would from that point onward be buried in Eretz Yisroel proper! (Do not think that where one is buried is a simple matter. See the gemara B.M. 84b, where it says that some people did not want Rabbi Elozor the son of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai to be buried next to his illustrious father because of their perceived shortcomings in his behaviour.)
This gives us a sort of "remez" insight into a verse in parshas Korach. In 17:5 it says, "V'lo yi'h'yeh ch'Korach v'chaadoso kaasher di'ber Hashem b'yad Moshe." Rashi comments on the choice of wording "b'yad." He explains that whoever argues about the appointment of Aharon and his family as Kohanim will be stricken with "tzoraas," as we find by Uzioh (Divrei Hayomim 2:26:20). We find "tzoraas" connected to one's hand by Moshe, when he spoke negatively of the bnei Yisroel to Hashem, and was temporarily stricken with "tzoraas" (Shmos 4:6). We might offer that to stress to an extreme how devastating "machlo'kes" is, the Torah says "b'YaD Moshe," to hint at the mere fourteen (Yud-Dalet = 14) years Moshe might have been buried in "chutz lo'oretz" had he insisted on "fighting it out" with bnei Gad and bnei Reuvein. Don't be like Korach! Rather, be like "YaD Moshe." To avoid "machlo'kes" Moshe acquiesced, but only with an EXTREME personal sacrifice! The lesson we are to take from this is very, very obvious. "Machlo'kes" was a major cause leading to the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh. This parsha being read the "three weeks" brings home the lesson of avoiding "machlo'kes" even at a TREMENDOUS cost.
Ch. 32, v. 33: "V'lachatzi sheivet Menasheh ven Yoseif" - And to half the tribe of Menasheh the son of Yoseif - How does Menasheh shine into this episode? We have offered numerous opinions in previous issues of Sedrah Selections. Tzror Hamor explains that the tribe of Yoseif had the special ability to oversee and control the behaviour of the other tribes, a sort of kick-back to the days of Yoseif in Egypt, who attended to his siblings' needs for approximately eighty years. There were two tribes of Yoseif's descendants, Efrayim and Menasheh. Moshe set things up so that there would be an equal ratio of Yoseif's descendants living with all the other tribes. Half a tribe resided with the two trans-Jordanian tribes of Reuvein and Gad, a one to four ratio, and the remaining tribe and a half resided in Eretz Yisroel with the ten other tribes, again a one to four ratio.
Based on the words of the Tzror Hamor the wording of our verse seems to be very well understood. When mentioning Gad and Reuvein the word "sheivet" is not used. Menasheh's father Yoseif is mentioned, seemingly unnecessary. However, since the reason for half of Menasheh residing in the trans-Jordan was because they were descendents of Yoseif, both these points are very much in place to be mentioned here.
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