The lure of the sheep pens

Towards the end of the Torah portion of Matot that describes the importance of vows.and declares war on the divisiveness personified by Midian, we are confronted with the request of the tribes of Reuven and Gad.

The people of Reuven and Gad have been very successful and have amassed large flocks of sheep and possessions. They turned to Moshe and said : If we have found favor in your eyes, then let this land be given to your servants as an inheritance, and do not cause us to pass over the River Yarden (Bemidbar 32:1-5).

Moshe is angry and says”…shall your brethren go to fight while you remain here? ( ibid 32:6).

They answered Moshe “: we shall build sheep pens for our flocks and towns for our children. We shall quickly proceed at the vanguard of Israel until we have brought them to their place, while our children remain in the fortified towns because of this land’s inhabitants. .. But we will not inherit with them on the other side of the Yarden, because our inheritance is rather to be on its eastern side (32:16-19).

Moshe points to two major flaws in their thinking. First he explains the order by which the land is to be inherited; If you go to battle and help your brethren conquer the land then “. and the Land will be conquered before HaShem, afterwards you may return, and you shall be freed [of your obligation] from HaShem and from Israel, and this land will become your heritage before HaShem.” ( ibid 32:22)

Then he reminds them about priorities in their lives “. So build yourselves cities for your children and enclosures for your sheep, and what has proceeded from your mouth you shall do.”

Get your priorities right, it is first about your children and only later about your sheep and possessions.

Rav Channan Porat points out that hey seem to understand the criticism regarding the children ,but miss the point of the inheritance of the land.. As regarding the children they say ” Our children and our wives, our livestock and our cattle will remain there, in the cities of Gilead.” ( ibid ;26).

Yet as to the land they respond; . “We shall do as HaShem has spoken to your servants.. We shall cross over in an armed …, and with us we have ( EETANU) the possession of our inheritance on this side of the Jordan.”( ibid: 31-32)

They wanted possession of this rich and abundant land right now rather than the land G-d promised them. They wanted a resource rich “Uganda” rather than the more challenging land of Israel. That was and continues to be the lure of the lands of the exile.

On the one hand in exile we were “an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword, among all the peoples whither HaShem shall lead thee away” (Deuteronomy 28: 37). On the other hand what “ There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell.(Deuteronomy 4:28). All this because “You saw among them their detestable images and idols of wood and stone, of silver and gold ( Deuteronomy 29:17).Gold and silver, sheep and worldly possessions will lure mortals away from their purpose and away from their destiny.

We are in the midst of the three weeks commemorating the destruction of the temple and the beginning of exile. We are still in the midst of the three weeks in our generation because the lure of physical gratification and achievement has dulled our yearning for Hashem’s temple and His redemption.

May we grow out of the sadness of these three weeks and garner the inner knowledge and the courage to yearn for much more.

This is what HaShem Almighty says: “The fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months will become joyful and glad occasions and happy festivals for Judah. Therefore love truth and peace.” ( Zechariah 8:19)

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