Parshas Matos-Masei

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By Rabbi Shimmy Sternfield

ומקנה רב היה לבני ראובן ולבני גד עצום מאד
(פרק ל”ב, פסוק א)

The children of Reuvein and Gad had abundant livestock- very great…

The Torah tells us, that the שבטים of ראובן and גד had a lot of livestock. Upon seeing that the land of סיחון and עוג was a good place to graze animals, these two שבטים requested from משה that they receive that land as their inheritance. משה replied, that he feared that if the tribes of ראובן and גד did not join בני ישראל in crossing the ירדן and driving out the nations living there, the other שבטים might misinterpret their motive. Rather than understand this as a practical consideration for their livestock, the other שבטים may think that ראובן and גד were trying to avoid fighting because they feared the גוים. This could lead the rest of בני ישראל to become frightened and decide not to enter ארץ ישראל. To avoid this, the שבטים of ראובן and גד made the following offer: “Let us build pens for the flock and cities for our children here. Then, we will arm ourselves and lead בני ישראל in battle until we will have brought them to their place. In the meantime, our families will remain here.” משה responded, “Build cities for your children and pens for your flock, and what has come from your mouth shall you do.” חז”ל note, that the children of ראובן and גד mentioned the pens for their flock before the cities for their children. משה, however, reversed the order and mentioned the children first. The מפרשים struggle to defend the children of ראובן and גד. Why would they mention their animals before their children? The כלי יקר suggests the following answer: The Torah describes the livestock of ראובן and גד as עצום מאד. Translated literally, this phrase means “very strong.” This indicates that the animals of ראובן and גד were unusually powerful. Their sheep were of the same caliber as those of איוב. As חז”ל teach us, the sheep of איוב would kill the wolves that came to attack them! We can now explain the conversation between משה and the tribes of ראובן and גד. Knowing that their animals could provide protection, the שבטים of ראובן and גד chose to live in the land between ארץ ישראל and other countries. “Let us build pens for our flock along the border, and cities for our children further into our territory. With the sheep in place, we will not have to fear man or beast.” משה replied, “If you do that, it will be clear that you are relying on your sheep rather than relying on Hashem. Instead, build your cities on the border, and make the pens further away. This will show that you are relying on Hashem to protect you from enemies. Seeing this will give strength and encouragement to the other שבטים.”

The story is told, that when the שפת אמת was a young Yeshiva student, he once stayed up all night learning with a friend. As the morning approached, the שפת אמת went to bed, and he did not wake up until significantly later than usual. Being unaware that the שפת אמת had been up all night, the חידושי הרי”ם (grandfather of the שפת אמת) began to rebuke him for sleeping in, telling him that he needed to use his time more productively. The שפת אמת remained silent, listening carefully to his grandfather. Afterward, an observer (who knew why the שפת אמת had slept in) asked the שפת אמת why he did not simply tell his grandfather that he had been up all night! The שפת אמת replied, “I did not want to pass up the opportunity to hear words of מוסר from my grandfather.” Referring to our פרשה, the שפת אמת continued. “You know, I am sure the sons of ראובן and גד had anyway originally intended to help בני ישראל fight the other nations. So why didn’t they stop משה as soon as he started to tear into them? They could have saved themselves from some pretty harsh words! The answer is, they did not want to miss out on a chance to hear מוסר from משה.”

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