Torah Fax    

Friday - Shabbat, July 22 - 23 Parshat Mattot 

Torah Reading:   Mattot (Numbers 30:2 - 32:42)  
Candle Lighting  8:03 PM
Shabbat ends 9:09 PM

In Sync

Stay With Moses

The Jewish people had just fought their final battle in the desert against Midian, and they were now poised to settle the Promised Land on the other side of the Jordan River. The Torah, in this week’s parsha, recounts how the members of the tribe of Gad and Re’uvain “saw the land of Ya’azer and the land of Gilad, and it was clearly a suitable place for livestock.” They then proceeded to request of Moses to stay behind on the east bank of the Jordan. Moses initially was extremely upset about their refusal to cross the Jordan with the rest of the Jewish people. However when they consented to first join their brethren in the conquest of the Land of Cana’an, Moses relented in his opposition to their plan to receive their share of the land on the east bank of the Jordan.

One wonders how the members of these two tribes could forgo the greatness of the Land of Israel for a mere material benefit.

According to the Midrash, the Gadites knew that Moses would be buried in the east bank of the Jordan. They felt so close to him that they did not want to part from his place of burial.

The obvious question here is: how do we reconcile this explanation with the one stated explicitly in the Torah that they cared about providing their livestock with the best pasture? And why would they not believe that the Land of Milk and Honey would also be a most suitable place for their livestock?

Moses the Conduit

The answer lies in the way the Gadites viewed Moses’ role in providing the Jewish people with their material needs. Our Sages tell us that the Manna that fed the Jewish nation in the desert was in the merit of Moses. Moses thus viewed by them as the conduit of sustenance. To be separated from Moses, in their minds, was to deny themselves the ultimate in material blessings. No matter how plentiful and rich the Land of Israel was, the land in which Moses was buried would be the source of even greater blessing.

Thus the enticement of superior grazing land and the desire to be close to Moses’ resting place were not mutually exclusive considerations. In fact they actually complemented each other. Being close to Moses was the reason the land would be ideal for grazing.

Moses’ Rebuke

This explanation, however, invites another question:

If they were indeed so close to Moses that they did not want to part from his burial place, why was Moses initially so harsh with them? Moses rebuked them for following in the path of their evil parents' generation who did not want to go into the Promised Land. In fact, these two tribes had no lack of love for the Land of Israel, they simply had an even greater love for Moses and they desired to be close to him. One could argue that their desire to be close to Moses’ resting place was no less a noble and holy desire than the desire to live in the Land of Israel. While Israel is the geographic nerve center of the world, Moses was the human nerve center of the Jewish people. Logically the latter would appear to take precedence over the former. What can be so wrong for them to want to forgo the privilege of living in Israel proper in order to be in close proximity to Moses?

A great rabbi—a follower of the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn— declared in his will that he had two passions: one was the Land of Israel and the other was his Rebbe. If there was a quandary for him as to where he should be buried, in the end he decided that he wanted to be buried near his Rebbe in the U.S. notwithstanding his passion for the Land of Israel.

The difficulty with understanding why their decision was not regarded as ideal is magnified when we consider the Midrashic tradition that these tribes (Gad and Re’uvain) who were the first to get settled in their territory were also the first to be exiled. It is cited by the Midrash as an example of how hasty and impulsive efforts to get something prematurely can prove to be its undoing.

The question is: If, as the Midrash asserts, the Gadites were so consumed by a love for their Rebbe, Moses, why did they deserve to be exiled first?

Two Dimensions of Closeness 

One can resolve all these difficulties by understanding the concept of closeness. There are two forms of closeness. The first is physical proximity and the second is spiritual affinity. In an ideal world the two go together. Physical proximity can help to remind us of the love we have for someone. It can also arouse the passion, enhance the love and affection. Conversely, when the spiritual attachment is so powerful, it will manifest itself on every level including the physical level.

However we are not yet living in a perfect world. Frequently the spiritual and physical realms are not in sync with one another. A beautiful soul can be housed in an unattractive body. The Talmud relates an incident in which a princess challenged the Talmudic Sage Rabbi Yehoshua: “How can such a beautiful mind can be housed in such an ugly body?” He responded with the analogy of aged wine that is stored in earthenware and not in silver or golden vessels.

The Beit Hamikdash, the Holy Temple, was an exception to this rule. There is a Biblical requirement that the Kohanim/Priests had to wear dignified and beautiful garments. The Temple was G‑d’s model of a perfect world in which the physical reflects the spiritual beauty and the spiritual beauty is manifested in the physical. In addition, the Kohain had to be without physical blemishes. It was not because a physically blemished person is in any way inferior to others, G‑d forbid. Rather it is because the Beit Hamikdash was a model of how things will ultimately be in the future when all imperfection will be removed from the earth.

Too often we make peace with our limitations. We have become so stoic, that it seems that we can tolerate almost any pain and find rationalizations for it. Because we see so much inconsistency between what we imagine is the ideal and what is the reality, it has become difficult for some to believe or expect that a time will come when adversity will cease. By having one place on earth where a model of perfection existed, a vision of perfection and how G‑d envisions the future reality of the world became instilled within us. The Beit Hamikdash, among other functions, served to whet our appetite for the time when the entire world will become a Sanctuary of G‑dly perfection.

Having Our Cake and Eating it      

Since we are not yet living in a perfect world we cannot always have both: close physical proximity with the object of our passion and a spiritual connection to that person. In the less than perfect world that we inhabit—until the imminent Redemption—we cannot have our proverbial cake and eat it too. We must choose between the greater of two desirable situations.

We can now gain some insight into the dilemma the Gadites faced. On the one hand, the Jewish people were commanded by G‑d to enter into the Promised Land. That was their mission for which their souls were chosen. In an ideal world they would have been able to enjoy close proximity to Moses as well as fulfilling their Divine mission because in an ideal world Moses would have not died in the desert and, instead, would have led all the Jewish people into Israel. In that scenario, their connection to Moses would have continued. But alas that was not to be.

Now that they had to choose between these two options: to either be close to Moses or fulfill their spiritual destiny; they chose the former. As noble and admirable as their desire was to be close to their beloved leader, their primary mission at the time was to go into the Promised Land and prepare it for the time when the world would become a perfect world.

Arguably if the entire Jewish nation would have entered the Land—and no tribe would have been left behind—their relationship with the land would have been ideal. The holiness that could have been generated by the totality of the Jewish people occupying the entire expanse of the Holy Land could have sent unstoppable forces of holiness to the entire world. And that would have resulted in exile and suffering never becoming a reality.

That was then. Now that we stand on the very threshold of the future Redemption we must prepare ourselves for the time when the dream of the Gadites to be close to Moses in both the physical and spiritual sense will come true. Indeed, the Midrash tells us that Moses will arise and bring his people—those who remained on the east bank of the Jordan—and march with them into the Promised Land. We will then see a world that will reflect G‑dly perfection.

Moshiach Matters 

If a king will arise from the House of David, who, like David his ancestor, delves deeply into the study of the Torah and engages in the mitzvot as prescribed by the Written Law and the Oral Law; if he will compel all of Israel to walk in [the way of the Torah] and repair the breaches [in its observance]; and if he will fight the wars of G‑d; - we may, with assurance, consider him Moshiach.(Maimonides)

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