Tzvi FishmanBefore making Aliyah to Israel, Tzvi Fishman was a Hollywood screenwriter....
I am now accused of dividing the Nation. Ha ha ha ha ha! That’s a good one!
First, let’s start out with a little history.
After the Sin of the Spies, and wandering 40 years in the wilderness in punishment for their not wanting to come to the Land of Israel, the Jews who survived finally reached the bank of the Yarden River.
When the tribes of Reuven and Gad, who possessed great herds of sheep and cattle, saw that the region was good for grazing, they approached Moshe, requesting that he exempt them from crossing over the Jordan to enter Eretz Yisrael proper. Instead, they asked that their inheritance fall on the eastern side of the river, since it was suitable for their herds (See Bamidbar, Ch.32).
In his book, “HaAm v”HaAretz,” Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, head of the Har Bracha Yeshiva, points out that Moshe Rabbeinu’s answer was surprisingly harsh. First, he condemned them, saying, “Why should your brothers go out and fight while you stay here?!” (Bamidbar, 32:6). Furthermore, he blamed them for repeating the sin of the Spies who rejected the Land of Israel, persuading the Jewish People not to enter the Land. Their rebellion greatly aroused God’s anger, to the point where He decreed that the entire generation would die in the wilderness. And behold – here once again, the tribes of Reuven, Gad, and half the tribe of Menasha, were causing Israel to sin and falter by not entering the Land! Perhaps, they too, like the Spies, would bring on a terrible disaster by dividing the nation, in their not wanting to participate in G-d’s command to conquer and dwell in the Land. Moshe chastised them at length for this.
Now who threatened to divide the nation in this sad situation? Moshe, for rebuking the rebels, or those who didn’t want to take part in the conquest of Eretz Yisrael?
When Moshe finished his rebuke, the members of the tribes of Reuven and Gad answered, saying that their intention was not to evade the war, but rather they would first build enclosures for their livestock, and build cities for their children, and afterwards, go out as an advance guard in front of Israel to conquer all the Land. Only after all the tribes were settled in their respective inheritances would they return to their lands on the eastern side of the Jordan.
Rabbi Melamed notes that seemingly, after all this promise, Moshe Rabbeinu should have been reconciled with them, perhaps even apologizing for his suspicions. Nevertheless, from his response, it still seems that he was concerned that they would not fulfill their words. Therefore, he once again requests they commit themselves explicitly, with a double stipulation, solidifying their commitment to partake in the conquest of the Land.
The reason for Moshe’s suspicion is that there was a fundamental problem with their desire to inherit the eastern side of the Jordan. Their order of priorities was faulty. Their motive for desiring to inherit that specific portion of the Land wasn't because they felt a deep connection to it, as a place where they could fulfill their unique goal of revealing the Name of God in the world. Rather, they simply were concerned about their possessions.
Therefore, even after they promised to be the first to go out to war, Moshe Rabbeinu remained suspicious. He knew that if they did not elevate their motives above their own private material concerns for their livestock and families, to the higher intention of inheriting the Land together with all of Israel, in order to reveal the word of God in the world, they would not be successful.
As our Sages have said, there are wealthy people who don’t understand that wealth is a gift from Heaven. Instead, their craving for riches controls them, to the point where they are removed from the world, along with their wealth. “And thus you find concerning the tribes of Reuben and Gad, who were wealthy and possessed large herds. They cherished their wealth and resided outside of the Land of Israel. Therefore, they were exiled first amongst all the tribes, as it is written, ‘And he carried away the Re’uveni, and the Gadi, and the half tribe of Menashe’ (Divrei Hayamim 1, 5:26). What caused this? It was due to the fact that they separated themselves from their brothers because of their possessions” (Bamidbar Rabbah, 22:7).
They even placed their concern for their herds ahead of their concern for the future of their children.
Once again, who is the cause of the separation here? Moshe or the tribes who didn’t want to settle in Israel alongside their brothers?
Since, a sizable portion of the Jews of America will be watching Thanksgiving Day football games today on TV, I will use a more mundane metaphor. A football stadium is divided between the players on the field who are playing the game, and the spectators who are watching from the grandstands and bleachers.
I am like a cheerleader down on the field, urging the spectators to abandon their comfortable seats and come join in the game.
“Come on, fellas!” I yell. “You’ve got what it takes! Don’t be afraid! You can be a player too! One, two, three, four, you are capable of much much more!”
Now tell me. Who is causing the separation? The blogger in Israel calling his brothers and sisters to come on aliyah and join along with the rest of us in fulfilling the great mitzvah of settling the Land, or those who reject the call, preferring to remain in foreign countries, watching the game on TV?