Gifts from the Heavens

July 19th, 2006 by Yaakov Ellis

ומקנה רב היה לבני ראובן ולבני-גד עצום מאד; ויראו את ארץ יעזר, ואת ארץ גלעד, והנה המקום, מקום מקנה

And the children of Reuven and the children of Gad had very great multitude of cattle; and they saw the land of Ya’azer and the land of Gil’ad, and the place was a place for cattle

Bamidbar 32:1

When the children of Gad and Reuven saw the land east of the Jordan river, they realized that it would be the perfect place for them to go to in order to raise their cattle and livestock. So they went to Moshe and the elders of Israel and asked for this land (32:3).

At first glance this is may not be such a terrible request. These tribes were offering to give up their portions to the West of the Jordan in exchange for this land. They had no problem pushing this off for a few years, being in the vanguard of the army as it conquered the land (for the other tribes) West of the Jordan (32:17).

So why then does this request receive such a sharp reaction from Moshe (32:6-15)? More than that, why was their attempt at settling the land to the East of the Jordan ultimately unsuccessful (as they were among the first tribes ot be included in the Assyrian exile and for the most part have been lost to the rest of the Jewish People – Divrei haYamim A 5:26)?

There are a number of answers to this question. One of them is given by Midrash Rabba (32:7) on this verse. The midrash states that there were three types of gifts created in this world: wisdom, strength/might and wealth. Attaining any of them can lead to all of the goodness in the world. But when will these gifts result in such greatness?

אימתי? בזמן שהן מתנות שמים ובאות מכח התורה, אבל גבורתו ועשרו של בשר ודם אינו כלום

When? In the time when these gifts are from the God (lit. “from the heavens”) and come through the power of the Torah. But the might and wealth of man are nothing.

Bamidbar Rabba 32:7

The land to the East of the Jordan could very well have been intended for them. The tribes of Gad and Reuven should have gone to Moshe not to ask directly for the land to fulfill their personal needs. Instead they should have gone in order to find out what it was that God wanted them to do. They should have asked Moshe what, in his opinion, was the proper thing to do, in the eyes of the Torah. If through this context they had been granted the gift of the wonderful land to the East fo the Jordan, they would have been successful in their endeavors there. Instead, since they came with their requests not in the context of the Torah, but rather as a way of seeking to fulfill personal desires, these gifts were merely like “the wealth of man” and in the end amounted to nothing (and as the midrash says at the end, resulted in these tribes being the very first to be exiled).

(Adapted from Dvar Torah by Rav Avichai Katzin, Radio Kol Chai)

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