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Torah Attitude: Parashas Mattos-Masei: Our most precious assets
The tribes of Gad and Reuven requested the land east of River Jordan as their inheritance. They mentioned that they needed pens for their animals before they mentioned the need for cities for their children. It is very common nowadays to hear the regret of parents of grown-up children that they did not dedicate themselves more to their children. On Friday nights there is a custom in many Jewish homes to sing Aishes Chayil before Kiddush. Only when the Jewish people offered their children as their guarantors did G’d agree to give them the Torah. It is up to us to understand our obligation and put our children above anything else in life.
Gad and Reuven’s request
Towards the end of Parashas Mattos, the Torah relates how the tribes of Gad and Reuven approached Moses and requested the land east of River Jordan as their inheritance. These two tribes had an abundance of livestock and the land east of River Jordan was very suitable for grazing. Initially, Moses was not happy with their request. He feared that the other tribes would think that these two tribes were scared of entering the land of Israel. Moses feared that history would repeat itself just like when the spies’ report influenced the Jewish people to turn away from G’d, and that G’d would again punish the Jewish people.
Pens and cities
The tribes of Gad and Reuven clarified their intent and said (Bamidbar 32:16) “We shall build pens for our livestock and cities for our young children. And we shall go ahead fully armed in front of the children of Israel until we have brought them to their place.” Moses replied that if they were ready to be the vanguard in battle, then he would grant them their requested land. He continued and said, (ibid 24) “Build yourselves cities for your young children and pens for your flock.” Rashi quotes from the Midrash Tanchuma (7) that there is a subtle difference between the way the tribes of Gad and Reuven described what they planned to do, and the way Moses responded to their request. The tribes mentioned pens for their animals before they mentioned cities for their children; whereas Moses first mentioned the cities for their children and only then the pens for their flocks. With this subtle change, Moses taught them a significant lesson about the right priorities in life. Children should be their parents’ primary concern, and the children’s needs should always be addressed before the needs of their parents’ livestock.
Regrets of parents
This lesson is most relevant for our generation. It is very common nowadays to hear how parents of grown-up children regret that they did not dedicate themselves more to their children when they were younger. These people got caught up in developing their business and enjoyed a rich social life. They left their children’s education to the schools and the daily care to nannies. Sometimes both parents hold a job just to be able to live on a higher standard. In other cases, the father is away most of the time involved in business and social obligations, and the mother is involved in social and charitable activities at the expense of their own children.
On Friday nights there is a custom in many Jewish homes to sing Aishes Chayil before Kiddush. This song is the last chapter of Mishlei in which King Solomon praises the woman of valour. In verses 12 and 13 it says: “She spreads out her palm to the poor and extends her hand to the destitute. Don’t fear for her household from the snow, for all her household is clothed in red wool.” In these verses, King Solomon teaches us that although it is very commendable to be involved in charity, we must always keep in mind that “charity starts at home.” He therefore says that the true woman of valour only gets involved in charitable causes after she has made sure that her own children are dressed in nice, warm, woolen garments and are protected from the cold of the snow. Children who grow up in homes where the mother is there for them daily when they return from school have less issues as adolescents and, in general, cope better in life. It is obvious that there are situations where it is necessary for the mother to work to make ends meet. In such cases, it is up to the parents to find time to be available for their children in the evenings and over the weekends. However, we must always keep in mind that when we have the choice of enhancing our livelihood at the cost of spending more time away from our family, we must carefully measure whether it is a necessity or luxury.
The Midrash Rabbah (Shir HaShirim 1:4) relates that before G’d was ready to give the Torah to the Jewish people. He said, “You must bring reliable guarantors that you are going to keep the Torah.” The Jewish people first suggested the three Patriarchs as guarantors, but G’d rejected them. Then they suggested the prophets, but G’d did not accept them either. Only when they offered that their children should be their guarantors did G’d agree to give them the Torah. This seems very strange. The fact that the Jewish people are descendants of the great Patriarchs was not sufficient guarantee that we will keep the Torah. The prophets who would rise to guide and chastise the Jewish people throughout the generations were also not sufficient guarantee. So how could it be that G’d accepted the children as guarantors?
Follow in our footsteps
We might find the answer to this in the following anecdote. A gentleman once came to my late father complaining that every Shabbat he sent his son to shul but the son refused to go. My father said to him, “Don’t send your son. Take him along.” The only way to teach our children what is important in life is by our personal example. When we practice what we preach and show them our priorities in life, we have a good chance that they will follow in our footsteps. It is well known that the instruction “Do as I say, not as I do” never works. In other words, the children bring about that their parents are more scrupulous in their observance, as the parents know that otherwise they might easily lose their children to Judaism. This is why G’d accepted the children as the most reliable guarantors.
Most precious assets
Our families and children are our most precious assets and our guarantee for the future and continuity of the Jewish people. We cannot invest enough to educate them to be proud of their heritage. There and many dangers and influences lurking in today’s society. To combat this, we must understand our obligation and put our children above anything else in life.
These words were based on notes of Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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