Why Was Moshe Buried in Gad’s Portion?

U’mikneh rav haya livnei Reuven v’livnei Gad atzum me’od vayir’u es Eretz Ya’azer v’es Eretz Gilad v’hinei hamakom makom mikneh (Bamidbar 32:1)

Just prior to Moshe’s death, he blessed each of the 12 tribes. In the blessing that Moshe gave to the tribe of Gad, he invoked the fact that they saw and requested for themselves the first portion — a reference to the territory of Sichon and Og, which was the first part of the land of Israel that was conquered — because they knew that that is where Moshe’s burial plot would be hidden.

However, in Parashas Mattos, the Torah explicitly records that the reason they wanted this portion of land was because it was well-suited for grazing their abundant livestock. How could Moshe say that their motivation was based on the fact that he would be buried there, when the Torah gives a completely different explanation?

Furthermore, Moshe himself alluded to the fact that his actual burial spot would remain hidden, in which case it would be impossible for future generations to go there to pray. Why did the tribe of Gad want to have Moshe buried in their portion, if they would never know where he was actually buried?

Harav Yisroel Belsky explains that during their 40-year sojourn in the wilderness, the Jewish people became very dependent on Moshe, who led them on a daily basis and taught them Torah. As they prepared to enter Eretz Yisrael, they grew concerned about how they would manage in his absence. They decided that the only way to continue was to understand the secret behind Moshe’s greatness and to emulate him. After contemplating the source of Moshe’s growth and development, they recognized that the period of his life in which he worked as a shepherd was a critical prerequisite to his being selected as the redeemer and leader of the Jewish people.

Rabbeinu Bachya explains (Shemos 3:1) that working as a shepherd gives a person time alone to think. Focusing on the magnificent world of Hashem that surrounds him will lead him to focus his thoughts on Hashem, which is conducive for prayer and prophecy.

Being around people often leads to sin, while separating from them as a shepherd can help keep a person pure and holy. Additionally, a shepherd develops feelings of compassion and empathy for others, as he is concerned about the welfare of his sheep.

When the tribe of Gad requested the land on the east side of the Jordan River in order to pasture their livestock, their intentions were not mundane and materialistic, as they would appear at first glance. Rather, they were motivated by a genuine desire to emulate their soon-to-depart leader Moshe by following in the path that made him great. In this light, Rav Belsky novelly suggests that the two seemingly disparate explanations given for their request are in reality one and the same.

When Moshe mentioned in his blessing to the tribe of Gad that they desired the portion in which he was “hidden,” Moshe was referring not to his burial plot that would be hidden, but rather to the hidden secret behind his success and accomplishments that they wished to emulate — namely, his work as a shepherd.

Q: Are vows made by non-Jews binding upon them, and if so, can they be annulled like vows made by Jews?

A: The Yerushalmi, as explained by the Mishneh L’Melech, quotes a dispute about the legal status of vows made by non-Jews. One opinion maintains that Jews are able to annul their vows, while non-Jews are bound by their vows and are unable to rescind them. A second opinion argues that only Jews are required to annul their vows if they do not wish to be bound by them, but non-Jews are not required to do so, because they are not even obligated to fulfill them, since the section in the Torah teaching the laws of vows was only directed to the Jewish people.

Harav Akiva Eiger writes that while a non-Jew may make a vow to bring an offering in the Beis Hamikdash and it is accepted if he brings it, he is not obligated to fulfill his commitment if he subsequently changes his mind. The Avnei Nezer suggests that although the mitzvah of fulfilling one’s vows is not one of the seven Noahide mitzvos in which non-Jews are commanded, there are numerous sources that maintain that non-Jews are also required to observe mitzvos that are matters of basic logic. In this case, because it is common sense that a person must keep his word, non-Jews are therefore obligated to fulfill their promises.

Q: There is only one yahrtzeit that is explicitly mentioned in the Torah. Whose yahrtzeit is it, and what is the date?

A: The only yahrtzeit that is explicitly mentioned in the Torah is that of Aharon, whom the Torah records (33:38) died on the first day of the fifth month, which is the month of Av. Harav Yisroel Reisman notes that this yahrtzeit is curiously not mentioned in Parashas Chukas when the Torah discusses Aharon’s actual death, but rather in Parashas Massei. He suggests that this was done intentionally, due to the fact that Parashas Massei is traditionally read during the week in which Aharon’s yahrtzeit falls out on the calendar.

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.