Until Death Do Us Part

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Matos-Masei
Until Death Do Us Part

One of the topics contained in this double parsha, Matos-Masai, discusses the B'nei Gad and the B'nei Reuven who submitted a request to Moshe to receive Eiver Hayarden (the trans-Jordan) as their inheritance. They did not want to cross over to Eretz Yisrael because they had a lot of livestock, and Eiver Hayarden was a perfect place for livestock. In order to advance their wealth, they preferred to stay in Chutz La'aretz. Eventually, they were granted their request (Parshas Matos, 32:1-22).

At first glance, we do not get such a favorable picture of these two tribes. After all, they were willing to give up the holiness of Eretz Yisrael (See Keilim, chap. 1, Mishnayos 6-9, where it says that Eretz Yisrael was sanctified with ten levels of holiness) because they loved their money (Bamidbar Rabba, Parshas Matos, 22:7). What a trade-off!

However, we are going to explore other commentaries who teach us that B'nei Gad and B'nei Reuven had lofty reasons why they wanted to remain in the Trans-Jordan. We are going to see that their primary motivation for remaining behind was so that they could be close to the grave of Moshe Rabbenu.

A support for this can be found in Parshas V'zos Haberacha when Moshe blessed the tribes at the end of his life. When Moshe got to the Tribe of Gad, he said that Gad chose the first Jewish conquered land (In Moav, from the kingdoms of Sichon and Og) to be his territory because Gad knew that Moshe's burial plot would be hidden there (Parshas V'zos Haberacha, 33:21; Rashi there).

The Tribe of Gad simply could not separate themselves from their Rebbi, Moshe Rabbenu, neither in life, nor in death. Therefore, they chose to remain behind with Moshe.

Although B'nei Reuven wanted Eiver Hayarden for the same reason as Gad, nevertheless, Moshe made no mention of this in his blessings to the Tribe of Reuven because Gad came up with the idea first (Ramban, Matos, 23:2). Gad were the movers and shakers. Only as an after-thought did Reuven join Gad. Therefore, only Gad was praised for this by Moshe, and not Reuven.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this also explains why Reuven is only mentioned before Gad once during this episode (Matos, 32:1), whereas throughout the rest of the story, Gad is mentioned before Reuven (Matos, 32:2-42). Reuven was the first born, not only of Leah, his mother, but also of Ya'akov, his father.

Additionally, Reuven was born from a primary wife, Leah, whereas, Gad was born from a secondary wife, Zilpa (who was Leah's maid servant who she freed to beget more children from Ya'akov; Parshas Vayeitzei, 30:9-11). Therefore, Reuven is mentioned before Gad. However, since Gad came up with the idea first, Gad is mentioned before Reuven.

There is a whole slew of commentaries who support this approach about this lofty reason that these two tribes had. For example, the Sefas Emes (Parshas Matos), the Chiddushei Harim, Reb Simcha Bunim of Peshischa, the Shem MiShmuel (Parshas Matos), and the Chozeh M'Lublin. They add that this holy intention of theirs can be found in the text itself. When the story begins by telling us, "Umikneh Rav" (that these two tribes had an "abundance of livestock;" Parshas Matos, 32:1), there is an alternative translation to those words. "Mikneh Rav" can also mean that these two tribes had a "kinyan" (acquisition) of their "Rav" (Rabbi), Moshe Rabbenu. They were so invested in Moshe Rabbenu that they simply could not separate themselves from him. They maintained that if Eiver Hayarden was good enough for Moshe Rabbenu, it is good enough for them, too (see Berachos, chap. 9, "Haroeh", pg. 58b). If Moshe will not enter the Land, then, neither will they.

We are forced to reconcile the two approaches with respect to the intentions of the B'nei Gad and B'nei Reuven. Did they want Eiver Hayarden because they loved their money or because they wanted to be close to Moshe Rabbenu?

The Shvilei Pinchas says that their real motivation was to be close to their Rebbe. However, they disguised their true reason by camouflaging it behind a claim to further advance their wealth. The reason why they did this was so that they would not bring Moshe any pain. Had they said that they wanted Eiver Hayarden because they wanted to be next to Moshe Rabbenu's burial plot, they would have brought up a sensitive subject that would have caused Moshe pain. Although Moshe already knew about being refused to enter the Land, reminding him of it would just increase his pain. Therefore, they claimed to want Eiver Hayarden to increase their wealth. But, underneath it all, they really just wanted to be next to their Rebbe.

At first, Moshe thought that they were trading in Eretz Yisrael for money. Moshe went ballistic on them and lambasted them, claiming that they were just as bad as the spies who would discourage the Jews from wanting to enter the Land. Who knows how much longer they would have to wander the wilderness as a punishment?

But, after hearing their willingness to fight together with the rest of Klal Yisrael, even on the front lines, Moshe began to realize their true intent. That is when Moshe gave them his stamp of approval and his blessings.

Now, Gad and Reuven split Ever Hayarden, and Moshe was buried in Gad's territory (Parshas V'zos Haberacha, 33:21). Gad's desire to be close to Moshe was fulfilled. But, this means that Moshe was not buried in Reuven's territory. If so, how was Reuven's desire fulfilled? The Gemara (Sota, chap. 1, "Hamekaneh", pg. 13b; Rav Yehuda) says that Reuven was also rewarded because although Moshe was buriedin Gad's territory, Moshe died in Reuven's territory (V'zos Haberacha, 34:1; Matos, 32:37-38).

Since Moshe died by Hashem kissing him (V'zos Haberacha, 34:5), there was a lot of Shechina (Divine Presence) present at that time. Imagine, such an awesome experience, with so much sanctity and purity, all taking place in Reuven's territory! What a complement to Reuven!

The Gemara (ibid) says that after Moshe died, his body lay on the wings of the Divine Presence which carried him over to Gad's territory, where Hashem buried Moshe Himself. Yes, Gad came out ahead because Moshe's death, in Reuven's territory, only took moments, whereas Moshe's burial spot, in Gad's territory, would last for a long time. The reason why Gad came out on top was because they were the first ones to come up with the idea of being close to their Rebbe.

We might add that, although Moshe was not buried in Reuven's territory, Reuven was not far from Moshe's burial plot. Reuven may not have been as close to Moshe as Gad, but there is something to be said about not being that far away either. In the end, both tribes were rewarded.

Besides wanting to be next to Moshe, there was another reason why Gad merited to have Moshe buried in his territory and why Reuven deserved to have Moshe die in his territory.

The Imrei Noam (Parshas Vayeitzei) and the Chida (Chomas Anach) say that Gad never complained about Dan. You see, Dan was Bilha's first born son (Parshas Vayeitzei, 30:9-11). Later on, when the Jews were in the desert, they encamped in the formation of a box. Since a box has four sides, there were three tribes encamped on each side. However, each side had a Rosh Degel (captain). Moshe appointed Dan to be the captain of the northern front (Parshas Bamidbar, 2:25). This made sense because, after all, Dan was a first born.

On the southern front, Reuven was appointed to be the Rosh Degel (Parshas Bamidbar, 2:10). Again, this was logical since he was also a first born. Gad was also a first born (Parshas Vayeitzei, 30, 9-11). However, Gad was not appointed to be a Rosh Degel. Instead, Gad was positioned on the southern side under the authority of Reuven (Parshas Bamidbar, 2:14).

Gad could have complained that Ya'akov had four wives which meant that there were four first born sons. According to the pattern that was already set into motion, Gad could have argued that each first-born son should have been appointed as Rosh Degel which would have meant that he (Gad) should have been appointed as a Rosh Degel.

Yet, we never find Gad complaining to Moshe about this apparent lack of consistency. Gad never accused Moshe of picking and choosing. Gad just accepted Moshe's ruling in the matter. Gad's silence demonstrated an incredible amount of humility. Although he was a first born and rightfully deserved the position as captain, Gad was mevater (gave into) Moshe's decision and forwent his honor.

Where did Gad get such inner strength from? He got it from Moshe. Moshe was the humblest of all men (Parshas Beha'alosecha; 12:3). Gad was so invested in Moshe and Gad had such a connection with Moshe that Moshe's humility rubbed off on him. How fitting that Moshe, the humblest of men, would be buried in the territory of Gad, a tribe which possessed such humility.

Let us not forget that Gad was exceedingly wealthy. Sometimes, wealth, and the power that it brings, can lead a person to arrogance. Yet, despite his wealth, Gad remained humble. This is how Gad came to deserve that Moshe Rabbenu's burial plot was located in his territory (Shvilei Pinchas).

Similarly, Reuven demonstrated tremendous humility for not complaining about Yosef. You see, Reuven was "the" first-born of Ya'akov because he wasn't just a first-born of his mother, he was also the first-born of his father. Typically, first-born children receive a double portion inheritance. Therefore, if any tribe would be divided into two, it should have been Reuven.

However, that first born right was ripped away from Reuven and given to Yosef (Rashi Parshas Vayishlach, 35:23). Not only didn't Reuven complain about this, and not only wasn't Reuven jealous of Yosef, but Reuven even tried to protect Yosef from the other brothers who wanted to harm Yosef (Parshas Vayeishev, 37:21).

Even Reuven's name hints at this. When split into two parts, the name Reuven spells Reu - bein (see the difference) or Reu - ben (see the son). When Leah named her son Reuven (Parshas Vayeitzei, 29:32), she meant to say, "Reu - bein," see the difference between my "ben" (son, who is a first-born), and my father-in-law's first born son, Eisav. Eisav sold his birthright to Ya'akov fair and square, and yet, he still wanted to murder Ya'akov because of it. By contrast, my first-born son, Reuven, never sold his birthright to Yosef. Rather, it was taken away from him by force. Despite that, Reuven cared for Yosef and tried to protect him (Berachos, chap. 1, "M'eimasai", pg. 7b; Rebbi Elazar).

What Reuven did required a lot of humility. This humility of Reuven was passed down to his children because we never find the tribe of Reuven complaining about the fact that the tribe of Yosef was split into two tribes. Where did the tribe of Reuven get that humility from? It came from his deep connection with Moshe Rabbenu, the world's greatest humble person. Reuven was so invested in Moshe that Moshe's humility rubbed off on him. Even though Reuven was incredibly wealthy, he never let his wealth go to his head. Reuven remained humble. How fitting it was that Moshe should die in Reuven's territory (Shvilei Pinchas).

By now we might be wondering, how the half-Tribe of Menashe fits in to all of this. From the beginning of the story, only B'nei Gad and B'nei Reuven submitted a request to remain in the Trans-Jordan. Menashe never mentioned anything about receiving the Eiver Hayarden. If so, how did half the tribe of Menashe come to dwell next to Gad and Reuven?

The Tzror Hamor (Rabbi Avraham Saba; b. 1440 Spain, d. 1508 Morocco) addresses this by saying that, kabbalistically speaking, the tribe of Yosef possessed an energy which served as a protection from all types harm.

Perhaps we could support the Tzror Hamor with the Gemara which says that Yosef was immune against the "ayin hara" (evil eye; Berachos, chap. 3, "Mi Shemeisu", pg. 20a, Rebbi Avahu; Parshas Vayechi, 49:22). Moreover, anybody who enters a city and is concerned about being zapped with an ayin hara, should say, "I come from the seed of Yosef who is immune against ayin hara" (Berachos, chap. 9, "Haroeh", pg. 55b. See the commentaries there who discuss why this declaration does not consist of lying even for a person who does not actually come from the tribe of Yosef). This supports the notion that the tribe of Yosef possesses the power of protection, not just for themselves, but for all other tribes as well.

The Tzror Hamor continues by saying that if Yosef possessed the power of protection, so did the two tribes that he split into, Ephraim and Menashe. This is how half the tribe of Menashe came to dwell in Eiver Hayarden. Moshe saw that the Jews would be living in two different locations; Eretz Yisrael and Eiver Hayarden. Moshe wanted both groups to be protected. Therefore, Moshe Rabbenu was the one that told the tribe of Menashe to split and dwell in both locations so that his power of protection would shield the Jews in the Trans-Jordan and the Jews living in Eretz Yisrael.

This was Moshe's idea, not Menashe's. This is why the first time we hear about the half tribe of Menashe dwelling in the Trans-Jordan is when Moshe is speaking to the tribes of Gad and Reuven (Parshas Matos, 32:33) about receiving the Eiver Hayarden.

It should come as no surprise that Eiver Hayarden only had half of Menashe, whereas Eretz Yisrael had the other half of Menashe plus the whole tribe of Ephraim. This is not a case of uneven distribution because Eiver Hayarden only had two tribes to protect. Therefore, only half of Menashe was necessary to protect them.

However, there were nine tribes living in Israel. Therefore, they needed more protection. So, not only was there the half tribe of Menashe, but there was also the entire tribe of Ephraim living in Eretz Yisrael to spread protection over all the other tribes.

However, one could still ask, why didn't Moshe split the tribe of Ephraim into two? They also came from Yosef. They also possessed the power of protection. Why did Moshe specifically divide the tribe of Menashe into two?

The Shvilei Pinchas answers this question by pointing out that Menashe possessed an extraordinary quality of humility. Menashe was Yosef's first-born. Yet, Ya'akov preferred Ephraim over Menashe (Parshas Vayechi, 48:20), giving Ephraim a higher rank. This was manifest with the degalim (flags). On the western front, the tribe of Ephraim was the captain, and Menashe was placed under Ephraim's authority (Parshas Bamidbar, 2:18 & 20; Rashi ibid, citing Bereishis Rabba, Parshas Vayechi, 97:5).

Additionally, when it came time for the Nesiim (princes) of the tribes to bring their offerings to inaugurate the newly built Mishkan and Mizbeach in the desert, the leader of Ephraim brought his offerings on the seventh day (Parshas Naso, 7:48), whereas the leader of Menashe brought his offerings on the eighth day (Parshas Naso, 7:54). Ephraim was given preference over Menashe.

Yet, Menashe never complained about Ephraim's promotion. When Ya'akov crisscrossed his hands, placing his stronger right hand on Ephraim's head, and placing his weaker left hand on Menashe's head, Ya'akov saw that Menashe was not even slightly jealous of Ephraim. This took tremendous humility. This explains why Moshe specifically chose to split Menashe into two. Not only was there the consideration of protecting the others, but, there was also the idea that humble tribes should be located next to Moshe Rabbenu, the greatest in humility. This is why specifically half the tribe of Menashe was chosen to dwell in Eiver Hayarden. It was so they could also be close to Moshe.

The Agra D'Kalla (Parshas Vayechi) says that the minhag (custom) to this day is that we bless our children to be like Ephraim and Menashe because we want our children to be humble like them. Ephraim never let his promotion get to his head and Menashe achieved an even higher level of humility by not becoming jealous of his demotion, even though he expected the higher- ranking position due to his being a first-born. Parents should think about this when blessing their children to be like Ephraim and Menashe.

One practical lesson that we could learn from all of this is to try, at least once a day, to give in to somebody else. This is especially true with our spouses. Even if we do not feel like it, the outer act of foregoing our honor will generate inner humility and promote peace.

So, may we all be blessed like Ephraim and Menashe by being spared from the character flaws of arrogance, and subsequently deserve to bring our Rebbi, Moshe Rabbenu, back again, who will expand the borders of Eretz Yisrael to include the Eiver Hayarden, when we will be reunited with our brothers, B'nei Gad, B'nei Reuven, and the half tribe of Menashe, when the three-ply cord of humility and protection will not be severed (Koheles, 4:12), and thus dwell in complete security.