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YIP Parsha Project Parshat Matos

07/15/2014 12:51:11 PM


YIP Parsha Project

Parshat Matot                                                                                                                        Ave Gold

Chapter 32 of Parshat Matot discusses the request of the tribes of Gad & Reuven; a subject with ramifications relevant to current events in Israel.

In Chapter 32, we are told that the tribes of Reuven, Gad had abundant livestock and recognized that the lands of Sichon and Og, conquered by the Jews, were good grazing land.  Gad initiated the request that the land of Sichon and Og be given to Reuven and Gad as an inheritance rather than their crossing the Jordan to inherit with the rest of the tribes.  Moshe, hearing this request, was shocked {Rashi 32:6}.  He answered “Shall your brothers go out to battle while you sit here?”  Essentially, Moshe accused Gad of demoralizing the Jewish people with fear, just as the spies had done.  He believed that when the rest of the tribes heard that the tribe of Gad was unwilling to cross the Jordan they would suspect that Gad was afraid of the fight and they themselves would fear {Rashi 32:7}.  In response to Moshe, Gad replied that “We will build pens for our livestock and cities for our families here (in the Transjordan) and we will go forward as shock-troops before the children of Israel until they arrive at their places….We will not return home until everyone has inherited.” {32:15-19}. Moshe responds “If you will do this; if you will go as shock-troops before Hashem.” {32:20}. He then outlines terms essentially the same as those offered by Gad.  Gad accepts Moshe’s terms concluding “And your servants will all cross over, every armed person, before Hashem to battle, as you speak.” {32:27}.

There are three questions I will deal with in this section:

First, how can it be that Reuven and Gad had all this cattle?  In Beha ‘alotcha {Bamidbar 11:4}, the people are crying with a desire to eat meat.  Where was all this cattle then?  Why didn’t Reuven and Gad host a barbecue?  Furthermore, cattle drink a lot of water.  Weren’t the Jews constantly short of water in the desert?

Second, The Meshech Chachma asks how Moshe accepted Gad’s offer to fight, without returning home, until every man had received his inheritance.  The conquering and distribution of the land of Israel took Joshua 14 years.  This means that the soldiers would not see their wives for 14 years.  In Devarim {23:10} Jewish soldiers are warned “when you camp against your enemy avoid every evil”.  The Meshech Chachma understands evil to mean uninhibited sexuality.  Thus, by leaving their wives for 14 years, the soldiers of Gad would increase their risk of improper sexual behavior and, consequently, increase their risk of dying in battle while serving as shock troops for the Jewish army.

Third, Why did Moshe change the wording of Gad’s offer to go “before the children of Israel” into “going before Hashem”?  A change accepted by Gad in their reply “And your servants will all cross over, every armed person, before Hashem to battle, as you speak.” {32:27}.

The answers to many of our questions come from the chapter immediately preceding the story of Reuven and Gad (Devarim 31).  Chapter 31 describes the battle with Midian to avenge the sin of Baal Pe’or.  Moshe recruited an army of 120,000 men (10,000 per tribe) who decimated the 5 kings of Midian and their armies.  The booty of that fight included nearly 800,000 sheep, cattle and donkeys, which was divided equally between the soldiers who fought and the people with contributions made to the Mikdash and the Levites.  The soldiers of Gad were the fiercest fighters.  In his departing blessing Moshe described Gad as dwelling like a lion, fearlessly in the Transjordan, exposed to Israel’s enemies {Rashi; Devarim 33:20}.  The victims of Gad could be recognized on the battlefield because their head and arm would be severed together by a downward strike of the sword to the junction of the neck and shoulder {Rashi; Devarim 33:20}.  The cattle that were so numerous were the newly acquired booty of the soldiers of Gad and Reuven from the battle against Midian.  With this background, one can understand why Moshe was shocked at Gad’s request.  The Jews were counting on Gad to be their shock troops in battle against the Canaanites.  Gad’s backing out of the fight would have been severely demoralizing to the Jewish army.  Also, when Gad volunteered to go forward as the shock troops, they were not taking a greater assignment than what was expected.  Where else would an army place its fiercest fighters?

The answer to the second question raised by the Meshech Chachma concerning Moshe’s acceptance of Gad’s offer also can be found in Chapter 31.  There, the officers of the army told Moshe and Elazar the high priest that they wished to make a special offer to Hashem from their booty because not one of their 120,000 troops was lost in battle against Midian{31:48-52}.  Moshe recognized that only a Jewish army without sin could emerge unscathed from such a life and death struggle.  Moshe reasoned that the soldiers of Gad could be trusted to discipline themselves despite the absence of their wives and not to succumb to the temptations occurring during war that might cause them to die on the battlefield.

The answer to the third question: Why did Moshe change the wording of Gad’s offer to going out before Hashem?, can now be understood.  The fighters of Gad were so confident that they were overly focused on the contribution of the Jewish people to the capture of the land.  They did not consider the role Hashem played in their success.  In the time of Joshua, Hashem caused panic among the Canaanites living in the land and also performed miracles of nature to aid in the conquering of the land by the Jews.  Moshe reminded Gad that the war against the Canaanites would be Hashem’s battle and they would be Hashem’s shock troops {Malbim}.

Once again, the Jews who have re-settled the land of Israel are engaged in battle against an evil enemy.  Coincidentally, this battle has come at a most unfortunate time of year for the Jewish people; the 3 weeks leading up to the burning of the Temple.  At this time, it is critical that the Jewish people avoid all evil.  The response of the Jews of Israel has been remarkable.  First the disparate groups came together around the families of the Yeshiva students during their absence and then their funerals.  Then, in a remarkable display, the Jews created a great sanctification of Hashem (out of a desecration of Hashem) by immediately bringing to justice our Jewish brothers who murdered the Arab teen and by offering consolation to that teen’s family.  As in the past, the IDF continues to demonstrate its concern for civilian life publically while fighting against Hamas.  To these actions, we Jews with no choice but to sit here while “our brothers go out to battle” must add our involvement by contributing generously to any financial needs identified by the Jewish National Fund and by travelling to Israel to strengthen Israel’s tourist economy and the morale of our brothers.  May the merit of our unified actions and our avoidance of “evil” bring us Hashem’s protection and an eventual victory without further loss of life.

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