Thursday, July 16, 2009

Mattos- Selfishness of the Tribes of Gad and Reuven

In this week's parsha of Mattos-Masei we have the infamous story of the 2 tribes, Reuben and Gad, request to stay on the other side of the river and not enter the land of Israel. This raises the questions of "was this request proper?" Did they really have a right to ask for this? Why did they in fact think that they were entitled to this land on the other side of the river? And if this was an inappropriate request, what was their punishment?

In order to answer these questions we must first understand what Bnei Gad and Reuben were thinking. The pasuk says (Bamidbar 32:1), “Umikneh rav haya livnei Reuben vilivnei Gad atzum miod” (The children of Reuben and the children of Gad had abundant livestock). There is a clear reason here why the pasuk is telling us that Bnei Gad and Reuben had abundant livestock before we are told of their request. Seemingly, because they had a lot of possessions this caused them to think that they could ask to not come and participate in battle alongside with their brethren. This introductory pasuk is showing us the selfishness of Bnei Gad and Reuben. Like a little child that is satisfied with his own portion, Bnei Gad and Reuben decided that they were happy with what they had and since they were happy they did not care about the needs of the other tribes.

The Midrash (Tanchuma 5; Yalkut Shemoni 32; Bamidbar Rabbah parsha 22 siman 7)comes to teach us why they were mistaken with their idea to stay behind and be satiated with their possessions. The Midrash says that there are three gifts that G-D gives to people in this world; Chachma, Gevurah, and Osher (Wisdom, Strength and Richness). And the Midrash tells us that people who have these things only acquire them since G-D has given it to them as a gift, but if they are undeserving of that gift G-D will take that gift away from them.

There are three examples of people who had these gifts and lost them because of their undeserving behavior. The one who lost his wisdom because he acted inappropriately was Achitofel, one of King David’s advisers. He joined the side of Avshalom to rebel against David since he thought it would bring him much fame and glory. Achitofel lost his wisdom because he used it to help Avshalom in rebellion against the king. Shimshon (Samson) was a mighty warrior, but he lusted after what he saw with his eyes, aka women, so because of his sin his might was removed from him along with his eyes. And the final person was Korach. He had more money than everyone, but since he used it to rebel against Moshe and Aharon it was taken from him, along with his life. So we can see from these instances that people who use their gifts inappropriately are bound to lose them.

This idea holds true by Gad and Reuben as well. They were satisfied with their own wealth and did not care about anyone but themselves. They wanted to stay on the other side of the Jordan River and allow the rest of the Jews to fight without them. Because of their selfishness they were ultimately punished and exiled before everyone else. As the pasuk in divrei hayamim 1(Perek 5) says, “Vayiglaim laReuben vilagadi vilachatzi shavet menasheh” (Reuben, Gad and half of the Shavet of Menasheh were exiled).

So we can learn from this parsha the virtue of selflessness. Selfishness is what brought down these tribes so don’t let it get you too. One must always realize the source of everything, G-D. If a person is able to focus on this then they will never be selfish. Once a person realizes that everything is from G-D then they will not assume that they received it by themselves. With this in mind, it is impossible to be selfish.


Chaim B. said...

There is another pasuk that spells out a different reason for the request for Eiver haYarden (at least with respect to Gad) -- "Vayar reishis lo ki sham chelkas m'chokek safun" (Devarim 33:21) -- the desire to cling to Moshe Rabeinu, even just to be by his kever. This is a different kind of selfishness than the material selfishness of our time.

E-Man said...

I believe, based on the Midrash and the pasuk in Bamidbar in perek 32 pasuk 1 we can learn this selfishness as being something that is a material selfishness. Why else would the Torah first point out that Bnei Gad and Reuven had a lot of MATERIAL possessions?

You could say they ALSO wanted to stay with Moshe based on that pasuk, but I think the point here is material selfishness.

The also see the midrash tanchuma where the midrash explicitly says that bnei gad and bnei reuven chose their possessions over their brothers and this is why they were punished. It is Tanchuma 5 on mattos.

E-Man said...

Also see the yalkut shemoni in mattos and the midrash rabba. All of these midrashim agree that because they became satiated with their possessions they were exiled first.

Chaim B. said...

Here's what doesn't make sense: OK, so they had a lot of cattle and sheep -- there is no grazing land is Eretz Yisrael? All the Avos had cattle and sheep and raised them in Eretz Yisrael. Especially since they were going to participate in kibush anyway, why not just take grazing land in Eretz Yisrael proper?
There are 2 seperate issues: 1) the focus on land for sheep above all else, which the Midrashim you cite criticize these shevatim for; 2) the choice to take the land davka in eiver hayarden, which the pasuk in Zos haBracha helps us understand.
Otherwise, how do you read that pasuk according to the Midrashim?

E-Man said...

"OK, so they had a lot of cattle and sheep -- there is no grazing land is Eretz Yisrael? All the Avos had cattle and sheep and raised them in Eretz Yisrael. Especially since they were going to participate in kibush anyway, why not just take grazing land in Eretz Yisrael proper?"

If I have grazing land where I am, why would I want to exert myself and participate in battles, where some people might die, if I can just stay here and have equally, if not better, grazing lands? The Medrash makes perfect sense in this regard. The Medrash is telling us that they did not want to participate in the battles because they were selfish. They saw that they had all that they needed. They were satisfied with their material possessions so why do they need to conquer Eretz Yisroel?

If I live in America as a doctor, why would I move to Israel? I am comfortable in America and I make just as much if not more money than I would in Eretz Yisroel, so why would I go there. Also, entering Eretz Yisroel brings with it many more hardships. This logic is a selfish way of thinking. Don't you agree?

So now with this medrash understood, why they chose to stay eiver hayarden and the reason being because they were satiated with their material possessions I can address the pasuk in devarim separately. The Medrash is not focusing on that pasuk, but it is easily explained. Gad had two motives for staying eiver hayarden, they wanted Moshe's burial plot in their land as well as not having to exert themselves in war and keep their material possessions. So they have a double selfish reason for staying. However, Reuven, clearly was just being selfish in the materialistic way.

Listen Chaim the idea goes like this, people that acquire material possessions do not want to "rock the boat." Bnei Gad and Reuven already had everything they thought they needed, therefore they did not want to risk anything by going to war. Therefore, since they were satiated with their material possessions they did not want to risk losing them so they requested to stay on this side of the Yardein. This was selfish.

We also know that the Torah describes this land as a very good land for grazing.

I think you are getting a little bit too hung up on that pasuk. It in no way contradicts these midrashim. I mean, if you see them inside it is clear that Bnei Gad and Reuven were punished for caring too much about their material possessions.