When Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven approached Moshe Rabbeinu with their request to stay in Ever Hayarden he strongly rebuked them, saying, “Shall your brothers go out to battle while you settle here?”
After listening respectfully to the words of mussar, they laid out their plans.
“Enclosures for the flock we shall build here for our livestock and cities for our children. We shall arm ourselves swiftly before Bnei Yisrael until we will have brought them to our place …”
Moshe Rabbeinu agreed to their plan, but he changed around the priorities. “Build yourselves cities for your children,” he said, “and enclosures for your livestock.”
Rashi explains that Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven were more concerned for their property than for their sons and daughters, for they mentioned the livestock first. Moshe Rabbeinu told them that this is not right; make what is essential, essential and what is secondary, secondary. First build cities for your children, and then afterwards enclosures for your livestock.
In Ohev Yisrael, the Apta Rav wonders how it is possible that individuals of the stature of Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven should put their livestock before their children. Furthermore, he asks, why indeed did they prefer not to enter Eretz Yisrael?
He gives an esoteric, kabbalistic explanation, which contains an important lesson for all parents.
The Baal Shem Tov taught that a person’s belongings have a connection with his neshamah. Everything in the world, even an inanimate item, contains sparks of holiness that need to be rectified and elevated. The Ribbono Shel Olam arranges it so that the items a person owns contain sparks of holiness that are affiliated with his neshamah, and through proper avodas Hashem one brings these sparks to their tikkun.
Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven saw that they had been blessed with abundant livestock. They sensed that the right place for them to be mesaken the nitzotzos in these livestock was in Ever Hayarden.
Since their primary focus was what they saw as this obligation, they mentioned the livestock first.
However, Moshe Rabbeinu told them that they ought to be more concerned for their children, who due to their youthfulness did not yet have the wisdom to do what was right, and therefore needed “extra protection.”
When a Yid performs deeds in holiness, purity and proper thought, this creates a malach. This is a defending angel in Shamayim on behalf of this Yid, inspiring the Yid in his avodas Hashem, and inspiring his children in theirs.
“City” in Lashon Hakodesh is ir, which can also refer to a malach, and is also the root of hisorerus.
When the passuk says “Build yourselves ‘cities’ for your children,” it is also telling us, “Build yourself malachim for your children.”
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It is told that the elderly mother of the Chofetz Chaim was once asked in what zechus she merited such a son.
She repeatedly insisted that she knew of no particular merit that could possibly explain the phenomenon. However, when pressed, she revealed what she considered a “small thing.”
“Before my chasunah my mother gave me a siddur with Tehillim,” the elderly woman related. “‘Listen to me carefully,’ she said. ‘We are required to raise our children in the ways of Torah and yiras Shamayim. So take this siddur in your hands, and in every spare moment beseech the Creator of the world to merit to raise your children to Torah and yiras Shamayim. And don’t neglect to shed tears while you daven!’
“So did my mother instruct me,” the Chofetz Chaim’s mother continued, speaking with great simplicity, “and I followed her instructions. I don’t have many merits, but this I can tell you: At every opportunity — such as when I waited for a pot of food to finish cooking on the fire — I would take the siddur and daven for the hatzlachah of my children. Tears flowing, I would plead, ‘Ribbono shel Olam, open the eyes of my Yisraelk’e to Your Torah, and help me raise him to be a talmid chacham and a yirei Shamayim …’”