Separating From the Community
Rabbi Reuven Mann
Many people are unaware of the fact that the land currently occupied by the country called Jordan originally belonged to the Jewish people. The League of Nations Mandate designating “Palestine” as the Jewish home, included the “West Bank” as well as all of Transjordan, an area considerably larger than the current state of Israel. This week’s parshiot, Mattos-Masei, describes the manner in which Ever Hayarden (Transjordan) originally became incorporated into Eretz Yisrael. The area had come into Jewish possession as a result of unprovoked aggression by two mighty Kings, Sichon and Og. The Jews defeated them and took possession of their land. The intention at that time was for all the tribes to cross the Jordan and take their inheritance in the land Hashem had promised to the Patriarchs. However, the leaders of the tribes of Reuven and Gad approached Moshe with a special request. The newly acquired territories were vast and well suited for grazing. These two tribes had great herds of cattle and these lands were perfectly suited for their needs. Would it not be possible, they asked, if we could forego our allotment on the western side and instead take our portion here on the other side of the Jordan. While this request does not seem unreasonable it elicited an extremely harsh response from Moshe. “Shall your brothers go to war while you sit here?” he said. He proceeded to recount for them the sin of the spies who undermined the morale of the people and intimidated them from going up to conquer the land. He accused them of being a new generation of sinners who “have arisen to add to the burning wrath of Hashem against Israel.” The stinging words of Moshe had an effect on the leaders of the two tribes. They did not withdraw their request but reformulated it. They assured Moshe that if he granted their wish they would cross the Jordan with their brethren and be in the vanguard of all the battles they would wage. They would remain mobilized until all of the tribes had received their portion and settled in their new homes. Only then would they return to their land on the Eastern side of the Jordan. Moshe agreed to this plan, the two tribes kept their word and Transjordan became incorporated into Israel.
However, we must ask, why did Moshe get so angry and utter such biting criticism? At the end of the day the two tribes behaved in a responsible manner. Moshe had a right to voice his concerns about the impact of their initial proposal upon their brothers, but he could have done this in a calm manner and sought to engage them in finding a workable solution. Why did he treat them with anger and condemnation?
In my opinion Moshe was upset with them for making a request which could have had calamitous consequences for the Jewish people. The welfare of Klal Yisrael should have been at the forefront of their mind. They became fixated on their personal material needs and imagined they could achieve happiness independently, apart from the Jewish people. Moshe wanted them to realize that all Hashem’s spiritual and material blessings would not come to them as independent parties but only as a part of the nation. If they were fully cognizant of that they would themselves have sensed the danger of their original request and never have framed it that way. This story has significant meaning for us. Every Jew has a right to look out for his personal welfare but must also view himself as an integral part of the Jewish people. We should always weigh our actions carefully, and be cognizant of the effect they will have on our lives as well of that of the Tzibbur.