Clean Before God and Israel

July 23rd, 2006 by Yaakov Ellis

ונכבשה הארץ לפני ה’, ואחר תשבו והייתם נקים מה’ ומישראל, והיתה הארץ הזאת לכם לאחזה – לפני ה

And the land be conquered before God, and afterwards you will return; then you shall be clean before God and before Israel, and this land shall be unto you for a possession before God.

Bamidbar 32:22

A bargain was struck between Moshe and the tribes of Reuven and Gad: if they will come over the Jordan River and lead the army in conquering the Land of Israel, only after doing this will they be permitted to return to the Land that they desire to the East of the Jordan. Their participation in the conquest is a prerequisite for inheriting this Land.

As part of this condition, the Torah adds an interesting phrase describing what will be the result of these actions: והייתם נקים מה’ ומישראל – “and you will be clean from God and from Israel”. If the tribes of Reuven and Gad had not helped conquer the Land of Israel, they would have some kind of debt, their actions would have been in some way suspect by “God and Israel”. By helping with the conquest, they show that they really are dedicated to the national cause – so much so that they are willing to put their lives on the line to prove it. This dedication absolves them of any suspicion that may have been placed upon them, and makes them “clean from God and from Israel”.

This status – to be clean in the eyes of both God and Israel – is not something that was incumbent upon the tribes of Reuven and Gad, and no one else. Rather, it is an imperative for all Jews. While we live out daily lives, it is important that we be conscious of the way other people will view our actions. Even if what we are doing is something that is pure and true, we still have to be cognizant of what others will see and think. If other Jews might have a negative opinion or get the wrong idea based on our actions, it is upon us to rectify the situation.

We can see this expressed in the Mishna from Shekalim (3:2) that says that the Cohen in charge of bringing donations into the treasury chamber is not allowed to be wearing straps on his legs, shoes, sandals, tefillin or charms (pieces of parchment wrapped in leather). Why not? Because if he would become poor later on, people might suspect him that he stole some money from the treasury (concealing it within his shoes or under his tefillin), and he became poor as punishment from God for stealing money. Or maybe he will become rich, and people will suspect that he became rich because he stole money. The Mishna cites the verse above as proof for this.

It is important to note: the Cohen who is bringing in money is not someone who we would normally suspect of wrong-doing. He is a priest, a righteous person, working in the temple service. Yet still, he is forbidden to even wear tefillin because of the chance that someone might suspect that he used them as a hiding place for stolen money. It doesn’t matter what his intentions are, or how pure his heart. There is an obligation on the Cohen to make sure that both in the eyes of God, and in the eyes of his fellow Jews, there is no reason to suspect him of any wrongdoing.

This is the rule with the Cohen. All the more so for each and every one of us.

(Based on a shiur by Rav Eliyahu Sha’arvit)


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