Parshios Matos & Masei
The Reuven/Gad Syndrome
The fourth book of the Torah – Bamidbar – concludes in this week’s public
Torah reading. The new generation of Jews, no longer the slave generation
that left Egypt hastily and constantly longed to return there when faced
with problems and difficulties, stands poised to enter the Land of Israel
and fulfill God’s covenant with Avraham. However here again, narrow personal
interests becloud the general picture and weaken the necessary national resolve.
It is no longer the so-called fleshpots of Egypt that beckon and entice. It
is rather the pasture lands east of the Jordan River that force the cattle
raising tribes of Reuven and Gad to plead with Moshe that they not be
compelled to cross the Jordan and enter the Land of Israel.
Moshe’s initial reaction to their request is one of shock and bitter
disappointment. He reminds them that their parents’ generation was destroyed
in the desert for disparaging the Land of Israel and refusing to struggle on
its behalf. And he warns them that they have apparently learned little from
that bitter event in Jewish history.
Here they stand making the same error in judgment and vision that the
previous generation did. Moshe’s greatest frustration is that the Jewish
people can’t see past their cattle, their personal gain, an imagined short
term benefit and their refusal to acknowledge the grandeur of the Lord’s
long term vision for themselves and their land. It is this blindness of
spirit and unwillingness to appreciate the uniqueness of Israel, the people
and the land that Moshe bemoans.
But all of this temporary gain comes with cost and a price. Separated from
their brethren west of the Jordan, the tribes of Gad and Reuven have a
difficult time defending themselves and are the first tribes to be exiled.
They produce no major leaders or heroes for the Jewish people and their
dreams of prosperity and material success are only fleetingly realized.
Criticized bitterly and eternally by the prophetess Devorah for standing
aside in an hour of national Jewish peril, they become the model of
individual Jewish indifference to the general cause of Jewish survival and
success. In our current world they unfortunately have many heirs and
disciples. Mordecai warned Esther not to stand away and be passive in the
face of Haman and his decrees. He warned her that when the Jews would
somehow escape from the troubles she and her family would be doomed to
extinction in the Jewish story if she allowed her narrow self-interest to
rule over her national duty for the preservation of Israel.
Today, also, narrow self-interests govern many Jews – even leaders who
seemingly should know better – in their attitudes, policies and behavior
regarding the existential problems that face the Jewish people and the
Jewish state. The Talmud teaches us that Jerusalem always needs advocates
for its cause. That certainly is the case in the generation and times in
which we find ourselves currently. Jewish apathy and alienation are our
enemies. The allure of current political correctness in policy and mindset
is misleading and dangerous. We too stand at the cusp of great adventures
and opportunities. We should avoid the Reuven/Gad syndrome.
Rabbi Berel Wein