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MATOSIT ALL DEPENDS ON WHAT YOU PUT FIRST
Adapted from taped shmuezim by Moreinu v'Rabbeinu Rav Zeidel Epstein, zt"l.
B'nei Gad and B'nei Re'uven (Bemidbar Chapter 32) were blessed with an abundance of cattle and viewed the East Bank of the Jordan as wonderful pasture land, plentiful for their needs. They approached Moshe, asking him to give them this land as their inheritance, without crossing over the Jordan River. Moshe ultimately "struck a bargain" with them: If they would agree to be at the vanguard of the fighting force in Eretz Yisroel, leaving their families and cattle behind while they fought, they would be allowed to inherit on the East Bank.
Three gifts were created in the world: wisdom; strength; and wealth. If you merit one of them, you have gained them all. When? When they are a gift from Hashem. But if these gifts do not originate from Hashem, they will eventually leave the person. There were two wise men in the world: Bilaam from the gentiles; and Achitofel from Yisroel. They both lost their portion in both this world and the next world. There were two rich men in the world: Haman from the gentiles; and Korach from the Jews - they, too, lost their gifts. Likewise, we find B'nei Gad and B'nei Reuven, who were very wealthy and, due to their concern for their sizable herd, asked to remain across the Yarden and not enter Eretz Yisroel. Consequently, they were the first to go into exile. (Bemidbar Raba 22:7)
The lesson is clear. If the Ribono Shel Olam gives you the gift, it's yours and it will remain yours. But you can't grab. If you grab the gift, you are liable to lose it. A person has to realize that if the Ribono Shel Olam gave him, he has to continuously remember where the gift came from. Often, however, a person thinks, sure, I know it's a gift from Hashem. Hashem helped me get rich, he helped me become smart. Like the popular American saying, G-d helps those who help themselves. Of course He helps, but he wants me to do also. And that's what I did. Me, with my intelligence, with my talents, with my ingenuity, I succeeded, with Hashem's help. What happened here? He took the credit for himself. All Hashem did was help him. This is the mistake. Yes, he did succeed. But he grabbed.
A person has to constantly remind himself. Don't think that the Ribono Shel Olam helped you. Everything you have is a gift. Whether it's affluence, intelligence, health, everything is entirely a gift from Heaven. You alone have nothing. But if you think that you did it, and Hashem helped, that's called "grabbing." That gift cannot endure.
The B'nei Gad and the B'nei Reuven exhibited a love of money. That means that the money wasn't totally pure. They didn't view it as a gift from the Ribono Shel Olam. Rather, the Ribono Shel Olam helped them become affluent.
Where did Chazal see this? The answer lies in a careful reading of the parsha.
And the B'nei Reuven and the B'nei Gad had a very great multitude of cattle; and when they saw the land … that, behold, the place was a place for cattle; The B'nei Gad and the B'nei Reuven came and spoke to Moshe, and to Elazar the Kohen, and to the princes of the congregation, saying,… The country which the Lord struck before the congregation of Israel, is a land for cattle, and your servants have cattle.
You will notice that at this point there is a samech indicating that this is the end of a section. They had finished their speech. The next possuk is a new speech. It seems that Moshe didn't answer them right away. Moshe Rabbeinu was a very clever leader; he knew exactly what they were asking. Two tribes come to him and start telling him, "Rebbe. We have, baruch Hashem, a lot of cattle, and here is a land which is perfect for grazing." That's all they said. What did they want? A bracha? It was obvious what they wanted. They were being diplomatic and waited for the right answer.
Moshe Rabbeinu heard them and but didn't answer. So what could they do? They should have gone home. The Rebbe didn't answer them.
But they were persistent. They didn't go away. They didn't let go. In the next possuk they come back again.
Therefore, said they, if we have found grace in your sight, let this land be given to your servants for a possession, and bring us not over the Jordan.
Moshe Rabbeinu heard them. But instead of answering their request, he switched to a different issue. What are you going to do about everyone else? You're going to ruin it for everyone else. You're going to cause them to lose heart in battle and become discouraged.
Fine. That sounds like a reasonable critique. But suddenly he changed his tone to harsh reprimand:
And, behold, you have risen in your fathers' stead, an increase of sinful men, to increase still more the fierce anger of the Lord toward Israel. For if you turn away from him, he will yet again leave them in the wilderness; and you shall destroy all this people.
What happened here? It seems that at first when they came to Moshe Rabbeinu he heard their plan. But he didn't answer. A smart talmid knows that when the rebbe doesn't answer, that means, the rebbe doesn't want to answer. But they stood there waiting. They didn't go away. Ah ha! Something is holding them. They're connected to their cattle and they can't let the issue go past. Something inside of them wouldn't let them go. Ah! You love your money. The holiness of the land isn't what motivates you. It's something else motivating you. If the money is what's motivating you then "behold, you have risen in your fathers' stead, an increase of sinful men." I thought you wanted cattle for more noble reasons. Now I hear that you're too connected to your livestock. You want Eretz Yisroel, not for the holiness, not for the spirituality, but for the affluence of Eretz Yisroel.
The B'nei Gad and B'nei Re'uven listened to Moshe Rabbeinu and answered him:
And they came near to him, and said, We will build sheepfolds here for our cattle, and cities for our little ones; But we ourselves will go ready armed before the people of Israel, until we have brought them to their place; and our little ones shall live in the fortified cities because of the inhabitants of the land. We will not return to our houses, until the people of Israel have inherited every man his inheritance. For we will not inherit with them on the other side of the Jordan, and beyond, because our inheritance has fallen to us on this east side of the Jordan.
They told him, "Rebbi, please don't think that we're shirking our responsibilities to Klal Yisroel. We're ready to go to battle. We'll take care of our cattle and our children, and we'll go into the front of the battlefield, before everyone else! And we'll even remain there until everyone else receives their inheritance!" They offered even more than Moshe Rabbeinu had asked. Moshe had only asked that they go into battle, not that they wait until everyone else gets their inheritance.
Fine. That was very gentlemanly of them. How generous can someone be? Moshe Rabbeinu answered, "And Moshe said to them, "If you will do this thing…." What thing? He should have said, if you will do what you said. No. If you will do this thing! Then he goes on to elucidate the conditions. v And Moshe said to them, If you will do this thing, if you will go armed before the Lord to war, And will go all of you armed over Jordan before the Lord, until he has driven out his enemies from before him, And the land be subdued before the Lord; then afterwards you shall return, and be guiltless before the Lord, and before Israel; and this land shall be your possession before the Lord. But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the Lord; and be sure your sin will find you out. Build cities for your little ones, and folds for your sheep; and do that which has proceeded out of your mouth.
Then they answered him:
And the B'nei Gad and B'nei Re'uven spoke to Moshe, saying, Your servants will do as my master commands. Our little ones, our wives, our flocks, and all our cattle, shall be there in the cities of Gilead; But your servants will pass over, every man armed for war, before the Lord to battle, as my master said.
What is does it mean, "Your servants will do as my master commands." Moshe commanded? They had already agreed to all this. They had made the original proposal.
The answer is that Moshe Rabbeinu had discerned that there was a flaw in their love of Eretz Yisroel. How had he discerned it? It was from the "first." What had they put first? Rashi points this out. They had originally stated, "We will build sheepfolds here for our cattle, and cities for our little ones." Moshe Rabbeinu corrected them and said, "Build cities for your little ones, and folds for your sheep." Everything depends on the "first." What do you put "first?" You put the material first, then the spiritual. Your children are you spiritual heirs; your cattle are your material belongings. What comes first? Of course they loved their children. There's no doubt that if a fire broke out in the middle of the night they would save their children first. But when they came to make a deal, what was on their minds first? The sheep. The business comes first.
Oh! If that's the case now we can study their original offer: "We ourselves will go ready armed before the people of Israel, until we have brought them to their place." We, we, we.
Moshe Rabbeinu had to tell them, Kinderlach. You've got it backwards. "If you will do this thing, not what you wanted to do. You do what I tell you to do. "If you will go armed before the Lord to war. And will go all of you armed over Jordan before the Lord, until He has driven out his enemies from before Him, And the land be subdued before the Lord." Moshe had to keep repeating "before Hashem," because this was the flaw he had detected.
Your first mistake was that you forgot everything is a gift from the Ribono Shle Olam. You have no right to inherit any land. It is a gift from Hashem. Never forget that. If you do, you are sinners. Secondly, you got the order wrong. "Build cities for your little ones, and folds for your sheep." Your families come first.
We see that their "slip of the tongue" of putting their money "first," was really a window into their true motivation and intent. They failed to view Eretz Yisroel as Hashem's gift. Rather they grabbed their gift. They deserved it, it was theirs. With Hashem's help.
This was the reason they went into exile first, before the rest of Klal Yisroel. Their connection to Eretz Yisroel was flawed. They weren't connected to the spiritual Eretz Yisroel, they were connected to the physical Eretz Yisroel. Eretz Yisroel was created especially for Klal Yisroel. It is the land upon which Hashem's eyes are focused from the beginning of the year until the end (Devorim 11:12). It's the land where Hashem can be together with His children. He wants to have a special relationship with His people. He sends down His Heavenly bounty first to Eretz Yisroel and from there it spreads out to the entire world. If you don't appreciate it's true importance, you don't belong here.
The Three Weeks
Concerning the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, and the ensuing exile of the Jewish people, the verses state: (Yirmiyahu 9:11-12) "Who is the wise man, that understands this? To whom has the mouth of Hashem spoken, that he may declare: Why does the land perish and is burned up like a wilderness, that none passes through? Then Hashem answered, It is because they have forsaken my Torah which I set before them..."
The Talmud explains. Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav: The Sages were asked, "Why does the land perish?" but could not answer. The prophets also were unable to answer. Finally, Hashem Himself answered: "It is because they have forsaken my Torah which I set before them," meaning - they did not make a bracha on Torah Study first. (Baba Metzia 85 a-b)
This gemara is extremely difficult to understand. If we take the gemara literally, the terrible Churban occurred because they didn't make a bracha before learning the Torah. That is very hard to accept. Why should they receive such a harsh punishment for not making a bracha? Granted, they were not acting correctly. Bircas Hatorah is a mitzvah from the Torah. But the punishment seems way too severe. The non-performance of a mitzvas asei (positive commandment) doesn't warrant such a harsh penalty. So what's the alternative? Perhaps it means they didn't learn at all. That also can't be. The great gedolim of the generation were asked, and couldn't answer. Even the holy prophets couldn't see any reason for such a terrible calamity. If we say simply that they weren't learning, it would have been obvious, they had forsaken the holy Torah!
So therefore, we must say that indeed, they were learning. There was a great deal of Torah study going on during the time of the First Beis Hamikdash. And they made the bracha for learning Torah. No problem was noticeable. However, the gemara adds a word, "they did not make a bracha on Torah Study first."
Upon consideration, the word first seems the wrong choice of terminology, it should have said "before learning." "First" has a different connotation.
"Why did the land perish? Because they did not make a bracha on Torah study first." Of course they recited Bircas Hatorah. But they were lacking the "first."
When you go to a Gadol to get a bracha for a child what does he put first? "You should grow to be a great talmid chachom, with yiras shomayim and midos tovos." Then he adds, "Zol zein gezunt, be healthy and successful." When we give brachos what's our order? "I give you a bracha for health and wealth and happiness. Hashem should help you to become rich and successful." As an afterthought we add, "Be a lamdan, a talmid chachom, and have Yiddishe nachas."
This flaw in the "first" was a sign that they were lacking the proper spiritual foundation. Torah is the spiritual inheritance of Klal Yisroel. All the brachos come from Torah. But we must approach Torah properly. It's not just another intellectual discipline like literature or science. Torah is the source of ruchnius. Baruch Hashem, we learn, we become talmidei chachomim, and we become great in Torah. Is it because of all the toil and sweat we put in? Of course hard work is a prerequisite. But in the end the Torah is a gift from Heaven. If one doesn't recognize that, his "first" is flawed.
Eretz Yisroel is that land with the special quality that enhances Torah and Mitzvos. The Torah learned in Eretz Yisroel is a different sort of Torah. The Ramban (Vayikra 18:28) states that even the mitzvos cannot be fully performed except in Eretz Yisroel. Eretz Yisroel is the land where Klal Yisroel can attain a true deveikus with Hakadosh Baruch Hu. But we weren't living on the land "before Hashem"; there was a blemish in our "first." This created a separation from the pure relationship they should have had with the Ribono Shel Olam and the spiritual Eretz Yisroel, and so they couldn't hold on to it.
The destruction of the land was not a punishment. It was the natural result of their weak connection. They put the material before the spiritual, the gashmius before the ruchnius. "We conquered the land; we won the battles; this is our land!" That's not Eretz Yisroel, that's a different country somewhere in chutz le'aretz. With that attitude, they had no right to hold on to Eretz Yisroel.
Golus from Eretz Yisroel or from Klal Yisroel?
(This next section was said in Eretz Yisroel by Rav Zeidel in 2004.) Morai v'Rabbosai. We live in a time when it's appropriate to stand back and think about what is going on around us. Everyone is complaining about this meshugener Rabin giving everything away! Really, Hashem's great mercy is directing him. It is very possible that we, Klal Yisroel, don't deserve to live here anymore. Perhaps we deserve golus, chas v'sholom. But Hashem Yisborach, in His great wisdom, understands what golus is and what dangers and tragedies lie in wait there. So He found a different way. Instead of taking his people out of the land, He is taking the land away from His people. When they take pieces of Eretz Yisroel away from Klal Yisroel this is a warning, Hashem is speaking to us. "Dear Yidden, you know I love you. But what can I do? Eretz Yisroel can't handle this. Eretz Yisroel requires kedusha, holiness and purity. We have to strengthen our kedusha, strengthen our connection to the holy Torah, daven better with more kavanah. He wants us to come to the realization that we need the kedusha of Eretz Yisroel. But the first step has to come from us. Better learning, better davening, better midos, better bein adam lechaveiro. We have to show the Ribono Shel Olam that Eretz Yisroel is our life, our spiritual life, our source of Torah; it means everything to us.
It's clear to me, concluded Rav Zeidel, that the Ribono Shel Olam wants us to remain in Eretz Yisroel and doesn't want to give it to the goyim. But He wants the Yidden to be Yidden as they should be. The voices that are calling out to give back Eretz Yisroel are really calling to us to wake-up. The Ribono Shel Olam is talking to us, my dear Yidden. The situation is so bad, you're about to lose Eretz Yisroel. It's now up to you. Do you want, or not? It's up to you.
© Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Yeshiva Shaare Chaim.
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers) and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop - Lakewood).
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