Putting People First
During the presidential run of 1992, candidate Bill Clinton published a
book entitled Putting People First. He had it right. He just wasn’t the
first one to write the
book. This week we’ll explore how Moshe -- very subtly -- taught his nation
that people, especially the children, come first.
The Jews were camped on the bank of the Jordan River, about to enter the
land of Israel. Representatives of the tribes of Gad and Reuben approached
a very brazen request. Numbers 32:3-5: "We don’t want to enter Israel,"
they exclaimed. "The land here is very suited for our cattle, and it would
be quite beneficial
if we were to remain here." Moshe, recalling the calamity of the ten spies
who dissuaded an entire nation from entering Israel, reacted in shock.
"Do you remember what happened 40 years ago? Do you want to, once again,
demoralize your brothers and sisters as did the spies? Do you remember that
parents and an entire generation perished in the dessert due to that sin?"
Moshe then recounted, in full detail, the misfortune of that fateful event.
"And now," he concluded, "you have risen in place of your fathers to
rekindle the burning wrath of G-d?" The representatives, sat quietly
through the denunciation
and then spoke.
"No, Moshe," they exclaimed. "It was never our intent just to remain here.
We’ll build stables for our livestock and homes for our children. Then we
will join our
brethren in the fight for Israel. Only after all is conquered will we
return home and settle." Moshe, obviously pacified by the quick and
obviously well prepared
response, reviewed the stipulations.
"OK," he countered, "you shall arm yourself for battle, cross the Jordan
and fight with your brothers until Hashem drives out the enemy. Once the
Land is conquered
and settled, you can come back here and this land will be a heritage for
you." After Moshe reiterated all the prerequisites involved in the deal, he
warns them. "If you
transgress your commitment you will bear a terrible sin before Hashem.”
Then, in what is seemingly out of place he adds the following. "Build
cities for your children
and pens for your livestock, and thus you shall observe the words that left
Two questions bother me:
Why is Moshe adding his comments on the domestic portion of their request?
Isn’t his only concern that the tribes should join their brothers in the
conquest of the
land of Israel?
Rashi notes that Moshe switches the order of the request. The tribes said
they will "build stables for our livestock and homes for our children."
Moshe switches the
order and tells them "build cities for your children and pens for your
livestock." Why is this followed by the words, "thus you shall observe the
words that left your
mouth."? Didn’t he already warn them of the consequence of retraction?
Henry Hirsch, the president of the Welbilt Co., one of America’s leading
oven and major appliance manufacturers, had another labor of love. He was
the president of one of America’s premier Torah institutions, Yeshiva Torah
At a board meeting, at which many of the yeshiva’s prominent lay leaders
were present, the school’s cook prepared a beautiful supper in honor of the
eminent supporters. As one of the students was serving the executives, Mr.
Hirsch looked at the delicious meal. "Excuse me," he asked the young
scholar. "What are they serving you in the main dining hall?"
The boy looked sheepishly at Mr. Hirsch and stammered, " I think we’re having
egg salad sandwiches."
The renowned philanthropist turned to the executive board and the
representatives of the Yeshiva administration. "We are all here for the
the Yeshiva boys, I think it is they who should be eating this chicken
dinner. Let’s send it to them and we’ll have the egg salad instead."
Moshe was pleased with the offer to fight. However, he noted a major
problem in the honorable plans of the tribes of Gad and Reuben. They
commitment with a very suspect phrase. "We will build pens for our
livestock and then we will build cities for our children." Moshe listens,
reviews their offer and is
doubtful. People who put monetary values before humans tend to worry about
finances before family. And people who put money first often change their
when their holdings are at stake.
Thus Moshe reiterates their pledge with one major amendment. He says to
them, "build cities for your children and then pens for your livestock;
thus you shall keep
the word that left your mouth." If the children come first, then he will
trust them. He knows and believes their values are in order and they will
uphold their pledge. A
major provision in the deal was not only a military commitment, but a
philosophy that will guide the Jews for centuries. Put the people first!
Copyright © 1997 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
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The author is the Associate Dean of the
Yeshiva of South Shore.
Drasha is the e-mail edition of FaxHomily, a weekly torah facsimile on the weekly portion which is sponsored by The Henry and Myrtle Hirsch Foundation