They approached him (Moshe) and said, “Pens for the flock shall we build here for our livestock and cities for our small children…” (Bemidbar 32:16)
Moshe said to them, “Build for yourselves cities for your small children and pens for your flock…” (Bemidbar 32:24)
The Jewish people had been victorious over the nations that dwelt on the eastern border of the Holy Land and were now ready to embark on their entry across the Jordan into the Land that had been promised to our Patriarchs. The tribes of Gad, Reuven and ultimately half the tribe of Menashe approached our leader with a proposition. They wanted the bountiful grazing land on the eastern side of the river for their flocks and were willing to accept it as their share of the Land.
After Moshe rebuked them for proposing a plan that might instill fear in the hearts of the rest of the tribes, they promised to build pens for their flocks and homes for their families and then join the Jewish armies in the battles to conquer the Land. They vowed to fight shoulder to shoulder with their fellow Jews and only after victory over the gentile nations and settlement of the Land, return to their families on the other side of the Jordan River.
Our commentators point out that when they made their proposal, they mentioned the pens for their animals and only afterwards promised to build homes for their offspring. Moshe, on the other hand, spoke of the children first and then the livestock.
Imagine a man who sets out to move to a different city. After consolidating all that he has, he and his entire family travel to the new location. What would his family’s reaction be if they were left aside as he set up accommodations for his animals, and then his business — and only after all was safe and sound did he seek shelter for his family? Outrage? Anger? That exactly was the response of Moshe and the prompt for his extensive rebuke.
We, too, would react in the same way. We don’t see any justification for such skewed priorities. After all, how hard do we work? How much do we sacrifice for the wellbeing and comfort of our dear children? A Torah-true upbringing is the focus of all that we do! How could such great people mix up their priorities so badly?
We can all agree that anyone who puts cattle before children is wrong. However, it is equally important, if not more so, to convey our spiritual priorities as it is to point out our hard work to provide for the physical needs of our children.
What is the message we communicate to our children? Their natural desire to satisfy us will be focused on the values they perceive to be our goals. We often express how hard we are working to provide all the material comforts that we didn’t have. We talk about how much we sacrifice so they can enjoy all the things we never experienced. We even say we hope that one day they will surpass us in Torah.
In order to fulfill our dreams for them, we must show them what is important to us. What we do and how we live is the best communicator of values to our children. When a father expresses admiration and praise for someone, children strive to be more like the one their dad values. If success in business or sports is admired, it will become the goal that marks success. If greatness in Torah learning, mitzvah performance and chessed impresses, these will be sought. Let us take note and work on delivering the message that will elevate our children and bring forth a “dor Yesharim” — a righteous generation.