In Parashat Matot, the Torah tells us that prior to entering Eretz Canaan, the tribes of Gad and Reuven came to Moshe with a request to give them their share of the land east of the Jordan River in the lands Bnai Yisrael had conquered, and that they were willing to forego their portion in Canaan. Moshe became furious with them, citing the refusal of the earlier generation to conquer Canaan, which resulted in their wandering in the desert for forty years.
Moshe admonishes the two and a half tribes:”Ha’achechem yavo’uh lamilchamah v’atem teishvupoh – Your brethren will go to war and you will stay here?” (32:6.) The tribes of Gad and Reuven explained that they would never think of shirking their responsibility in the conquest of Canaan. To the contrary, they were willing to go head as a vanguard, and after Canaan was successfully conquered, they would then return to settle in EiverhaYarden. Moshe agreed to these conditions to be fulfilled by the tribes desiring to settle Me-EiverhaYarden.
But why was Moshe so quick in condemning them, telling them that they are as bad as their fathers? Why didn’t he give them a chance to explain themselves?
When Moshe related the incident of the spies that had occurred forty years earlier, he expressed his guilt in the episode, saying that when they requested scouting the land, “The idea was good in my eyes.” But why should he have felt guilty? The answer is in Rashi’s comment on Moshe’s statement, “All of you approached me,” to which Moshe said, “You came as an undisciplined mob, the young pushing aside the old, and elders pushing aside the leaders.” Moshe’s confession of guilt was, “I should have known that with the gross disrespect you exhibited, the venture you suggested would not come to any good result.”
During the forty years in the desert, Moshe taught Bnei Yisrael Torah, teaching them proper middot, and he had hoped that they had refined their character traits. The tribes of Reuven and Gad, though they were willing to fight and die for their brethren and for the conquest of EretzYisrael, did not display proper middot and derecheretz. Proper middot are the foundation of Torah.The mussar teachers bewailed the behavior of students who pushed aside others in order to sit next to the speaker. The episode of the tribes of Gad and Reuvein is an important lesson in derecheretz—even when we are acting with good intentions and “L’shem Shamayim,” we still must behave and speak in a way representative of the Am haKadosh.
This message is particularly important during this time period. We are entering into Chodesh Av and we are told the Second Beit HaMikdash was destroyed because of Sina’at Chinam, baseless hatred. We must run the other way and try to engage in as much good and in as much chessedand ahavah as we can during this mournful time in our calendar.
Rabbi Yehuda Moses,
Rav HaKehillah/Senior Rabbi
Congregation Mogen David