Parshas Matos - Putting Kids before the Kids

Rabbi Maury Grebenau

Two of the tribes are taken to task by Moshe for their request to receive their
portion of land on the other side of the Jordan. Moshe‟s castigation of the tribes shows
his clear displeasure with their request, but it is not immediately evident what was so
objectionable. Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl points out that the major issue here is one of hasty
decision making. The Midrash connects this incident to a pasuk in Mishlei (20:21), “If an
inheritance is seized hastily in the beginning, then its ending will not be blessed.” The
Midrash continues that these two tribes were punished by being exiled years in advance
of the other ten tribes. What exactly was the nature of this „haste‟ and why was it so

It is interesting to note that the Talmud (Makkos 9b) tells us that there were just as
many arei miklat, cities where accidental murderers went into exile, on the other side of
the Jordan as in Israel proper. This is quite an anomaly, as one would imagine there
would be far more incidents of accidental murder in the area where ten tribes lived that in
the area where only Gad and Reuven chose to dwell, due to the significantly larger
population. On further examination the key to this discrepancy may be the very issue we
are discussing. The acquisition of this land was done in great haste without careful
consideration of the issues. Rash choices frequently lead to overlooked hazards and
preventable errors. This would be the exact type of attitude which might cause a
significant increase in the number of accidental deaths. It was the very nature of the tribes
on this side of the Jordan which caused such an upswing in accidental deaths.

Recently Malcom Gladwell published a book titled „Blink‟ which argued for the
efficacy of decision making „from the gut.‟ I was amused to notice that a few months
later a second book was published called „Think.‟ This author argued for the careful
consideration of major decisions. While we do not wish to become mired in indecision,
there is much to be said for careful thought before significant choices. This would seem
to be the message of the story of the tribes of Gad and Reuven. They quickly opt for the
land which gives them a good grazing opportunity; the land which will be the most
economically beneficial to them. Moshe points out the mistake in their priorities.
Originally the tribes ask for land so that they can build cities for their „cattle and their
children (Bamidbar 32:16). Moshe corrects them by switching the order, children and
then cattle (32:24)
. In their haste Gad and Reuven lose sight of the correct priorities.
Perhaps the message was to put the spiritual needs of their children before their economic
needs. Living in Israel proper closer to the Temple and Sanhedrin would lead to a more
spiritual experience for the people of Gad and Reuven and for their children. In their
haste to take advantage of an economic opportunity they neglected to take the spiritual
lay of the land into account.

See Bamidbar Rabbah (22:9)
Too often our priority with our children is to make sure they are comfortable
physically and not necessary growing spiritually. We convince ourselves that our
decisions are in their best interest but perhaps sometimes we really put the „animals‟
before the children. The most important growth for a child is their growth in character
and spiritual development. We all want children with the best character possible so our
choices of community and school need to be made carefully and with this goal in mind.

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