Vayomer Moshe l’vnei Gad v’l’vnei Reuven ha’acheichem yavo’u l’milchamah v’atem teishvu poh v’lamah se’niun es lev B’nei Yisrael me’avor el ha’aretz asher nasan lahem Hashem (Bamidbar 32:6–7)
At the end of parashas Chukas, the Jewish people conquered the lands of Sichon and Og, which were just across the Jordan River to the east of the Land of Israel proper. In this week’s parashah, the tribes of Gad and Reuven approached Moshe with a request. They noticed that these lands were particularly well-suited for raising animals. As these two tribes were blessed with an abundance of livestock, they asked for permission to receive and settle this area as their portion in the Land.
Moshe responded harshly, questioning why their brethren should go to battle to conquer the rest of the Land of Israel while they remain behind living comfortably. He also argued that their actions could dissuade the rest of the Jews from wanting to enter and conquer the Land, in a manner similar to the negative report brought back by the spies.
The tribes of Gad and Reuven clarified their intentions, explaining that after they built shelter for their families and animals in this region, they would join the rest of the Jews in the battle for the Land of Israel proper. Only after it was fully conquered and settled by their brethren would they return to their families. Upon hearing this, Moshe agreed to their request, but only after making a legally-binding agreement with them.
The commentators explain that the two tribes always intended to assist in the conquest of Israel, but because they didn’t see this point as significant, they didn’t say it explicitly until pressed by Moshe. Why did Moshe accuse them so harshly, and why was it so important to him to make an explicit legal stipulation with the tribes regarding this point?
In his work Shemen Hatov, Harav Dov Weinberger explains that Moshe recognized their original good intentions. Nevertheless, he was concerned that after they actually built the shelter for their families and animals, they would be tempted to reconsider their plans. After 40 years of wandering through the wilderness in pursuit of a stable home, it would be quite natural for them to be tempted to reevaluate their commitment to spend an additional 14 years helping their brethren conquer and settle the land of Israel.
To prevent this from occurring and to keep their actions consistent with their original intentions, Moshe insisted on making an explicit and binding agreement with them. Only if they fulfilled their end of the deal by assisting with the conquest of Israel would they be permitted to keep their land on the east side of the Jordan River.
This explanation brings to mind the following story. The Alter of Novardok once heard that a certain individual was coming to visit his town. He was in doubt whether it was appropriate for him to go to the train station to greet and welcome the guest. Since it was the middle of the frigid winter, the Alter worried that perhaps he would decide against going not for the right reasons, but because he was motivated by laziness and comfort. To remove this concern, he traveled to the train station and proceeded to make his decision once he was already there.
Many times in life we are confronted with difficult decisions. When weighing the various factors involved, it is important to be aware of our personal biases and to strive to reach conclusions based on pure, unbiased thinking.
Parashah Q & A
Q: Moshe told (32:22) the tribes of Gad and Reuven that they must fulfill their conditions in order to be clean in the eyes of Hashem and the Jewish people. Chazal derive from here several laws requiring a person to exceed the strict letter of the law in order that he not appear to be doing something inappropriate to those who observe him, often referred to as “maris ayin.” If somebody is doing something only to prevent a case of maris ayin but which would require a blessing if it was required according to the letter of the law, may he recite a blessing?
A: The Gemara in Chullin (75b) rules that if an expectant animal is ritually slaughtered, its unborn baby may be Biblically eaten without being slaughtered. However, if it walks or moves on the ground, the Rabbis required its slaughter because of “maris ayin.” The Rashba rules that one should say a blessing on this slaughter just as one says a blessing on any Rabbinical commandment. However, the Besomim Rosh and Pri To’ar disagree, arguing that no blessing is made on a mitzvah which is solely due to maris ayin. The Gemara in Shabbos (23a) rules that if a person has windows facing different directions, he must light a Chanukah menorah in each of them due to “chashad,” so that somebody passing an empty window won’t suspect him of neglecting the mitzvah. The Ran writes that no blessing is made when lighting the additional menoros. The Pri Chadash and Pri To’ar equate the concepts of maris ayin and chashad and maintain that the Ran disagrees with the Rashba, although the Kreisi U’Pleisi differentiates between the two concepts and argues that there is no disagreement between the Ran and Rashba. The Birkei Yosef questions this logic and additionally argues that it is incompatible with the explanation of the Rashba himself. Finally, the Michtam L’Dovid suggests that there is no dispute, as the Ran is discussing a case in which a person already said a blessing when lighting his first menorah.
Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.