Sedra of the week: Matot-Masei

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Sedra of the week: Matot-Masei

Rabbi Sam Taylor looks ahead to this week's portion of the Torah

The tribes of Reuven and Gad approached Moses with a request to settle in the lands on the eastern side of the River Jordan. Initially, Moses objected, accusing them of betraying their fellow Israelites during their time of need as they were soon to conquer the promised land.

Reuven and Gad clarified their request, saying they would first build pens for their livestock and cities for their children, after which all their men would help the rest of the people conquer the land of Israel before returning to their land east of the River Jordan. 

Moses agreed to this arrangement with one slight change. He instructed their leaders to build cities for their children and then pens for their flock.

Rashi comments on this discrepancy and criticises Reuven and Gad since they placed greater emphasis on providing for their sheep, their material possessions, rather than their children. He notes that when Moses switched the order, his intention was to make sure their priorities were
correct. Moses was teaching them the importance of making what is essential their primary concern.

Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Salant asks how it was possible for that generation which had experienced divine providence daily and connected to the Almighty to make such an elementary mistake? 

The answer, quoted in the name of Rav Dessler, is that owing to their large flock, they felt it would be better for the entire Jewish nation if they would settle on the other side of the River Jordan since they would avoid disagreements with other tribes over land. 

Even though their intention was pure, they made a grave error by getting their priorities confused. We see from this episode that we should always make of primary importance what is essential, even if at times we might be able to rationalise otherwise.

  •  Rabbi Sam Taylor is the community rabbi at Borehamwood and Elstree Synagogue

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