Mattot – The Rashness of The Children of Gad and Reuven

In this week's Torah Portion, the Bnei Gad and Reuven (children of Gad and Reuven) approach Moshe Rabbeinu, asking that he allow them to remain on Eiver HaYarden (Territories East of the Jordan), where there is sufficient land for them to farm their large flocks. 

Moshe replies with a strong rebuke – his main point of criticism was that by not entering The Land of Israel they would be abandoning their brethren in the upcoming conquest. 

In a lengthy passage, Moshe ominously reminds them of the incident of the spies and its terrible consequences. In reply to Moshes criticisms, the Bnei Gad and Reuven say that they would join the rest of the nation in conquering the land.  

Our Sages add that Moshe also implicitly rebuked them for mentioning their flocks before their children, indicating that their priorities were wrong, and that they should first focus on their children, and only then worry about their flocks. 

The Midrash also points out that many years later, the tribes of Gad and Reuven were the first to be exiled as a consequence of their desire to stay in Eiver HaYarden[1], and cites a verse in Mishlei: “A rushed inheritance comes first, and its end is not blessed[2].” 

Rashi[3] explains that this verse refers to the B’nei Gad and Reuven because they acted rashly by hurrying to take the land of the Eiver HaYarden first, and as a result of their rashness they ended up being the first to be exiled. Hence, the verse means that because their beginning was rushed, the final consequences of their actions were negative. 

Thus, we learn, that as well as their wrong priorities with regard to their children and flocks, the B'nei Gad and Reuven were also hindered by the trait of rashness.  This trait is demonstrated in Reuven himself in the incident in Parshat Vayishlach, where he disturbed Yaakov’s bed[4].  When blessing his sons, Yaakov reproves him for his trait of impetuosity and rashness that were the root cause of his actions. In addition, Yaakov stripped Reuven of the three privileges that go to the first-born – the Kingship, Priesthood, and double portion of the first-born. 

The Shivtei Yisrael[5] observes a common denominator between the tribes of Gad and Reuven.[6]  He points out that they are both first-borns from their respective mothers, and notes that first-borns are perhaps more prone to the trait of rashness, because of their status.  First-borns are used to receiving things first, and therefore may find it difficult to wait.  

He suggests that it was this shared trait that led to these tribes in particular to react the way they did when they saw the Eiver HaYarden.  The other tribes were willing to wait and see the wonderful land that awaited them on the other side of the Yarden river. But the B’nei Gad and Reuven saw good grazing land and said, “Let's grab it!” Our Sages were critical of this attitude.

The Shivtei Yisrael proposes further that the impetuousness of these tribes cost them an annual Mitzva. The Mishnah teaches that one may not bring bikkurim (first fruit) from Eiver HaYarden. The Mei Shiloach teaches that the significance of bikkurim is that a farmer spends his entire year working his field, waiting for his fruit to start growing. When they finally do start to appear on the trees, the farmer might be tempted to rush out to the field and grab them. The Torah tells him, that the first fruit must be given to the Kohen, and he has to wait before he can take the fruit for himselfHence, part of the message of the bikkurim, then, is to learn to be patient. Perhaps, writes the Shivtei Yisrael, those on the Eiver HaYarden were not allowed to bring bikkurim because the trait that placed them there was the impatience that bikkurim is meant to counteract.

Interestingly, one of the more maligned characters in the Torah can teach us a lesson about the importance of patience and avoiding rash decisions.  Korach is described by Our Sages as a pikayach[7] (smart person) and Rav Yissachar Frand suggests a source for this particular adjective.  When analyzing the story of Korach, a difficulty emerges:  Our Sages tell us that the real reason that Korach embarked on his machloket with Moshe Rabbeinu was that he was upset when Elsiphan ben Uziel was appointed the Nasi of the Tribe of Levi ahead of him, even though Korach was from an older family[8]

However, this took place significantly earlier than when Korach actually began to attack Moshe. Why did he wait until now? 

The answer is that Korach realized that it would be very difficult to incite the people against Moshe Rabbeinu and he recognized that he would have much more chance of success if the people were already somewhat discontented.  This indeed occurred after the episode of the spies, when the people were decreed forty years in the desert. Korach saw that then the time was ripe to sow discord with Moshe.  This is why he was a pikayach – a pikayach does not rush into his decisions, rather he chooses the optimum time when he is most likely to succeed[9]

Sadly, Korach’s pikchut was used in the wrong way, but this does not take away from the example it can provide, and it contrasts with the rushed decision of B’nei Gad and Reuven.

May we merit to develop the traits of patience and pikchut.

Notes and Sources

[1] Midrash Tanchuma, Mattos, 5.
[2] Mishlei, 20:21.
[3] Ibid.
[4]  See Parshas Vayishlach, 35:22 for the account of this incident.
[5] Quoted by Rav Yissachar Frand, shlit’a.
[6] This also applies to the third tribe of Menashe, half of whom settled in Eiver HaYarden. The Ramban states that they initially the whole land was given to B’nei Gad and Reuven but they realized that it was too large for them, so half of the Tribe of Menashe chose to remain there.
[7] Rashi, Bamidbar, 16:7, Dh: Rav lachem.
[8] Rashi, Bamidbar, 16:1, Dh: Dassan v’Aviram.
[9] Heard from Rav Yissachar Frand, shlit’a.

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