In the previous parashah, Moses had been reviewing the sacrifice requirements that were to be followed when the Israelites entered the land God promised to them. In this parashah, he begins by explaining the rules regarding when a vow is made. God had told Moses he was to die, but before that was to happen God had one more thing for Moses to do: destroy the Midianites.
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Moses took 1,000 warriors from each tribe and sent them to battle with Midian, in retribution for the sin they caused Israel to do at Ba’al-Peor. The 5 Midianite kings were killed, as well as all the males, and much booty was taken. The warriors had saved alive all the women and children, but this made Moses mad because these were the same women who, under the advice of Bilyam (who, by the way, met his end during this battle), had seduced the men of Israel into sin. These captives were all killed, except for the virgin women. In accordance with the Torah, the men stayed outside the camp for 7 days, undergoing the cleansing ritual God had proscribed.
This parashah ends with the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of the tribe of Manasseh asking to remain on the east side of the Jordon because they were cattle farmers, and that land was perfect for raising cattle. Moses said that unless they first go into Canaan and do battle with the other tribes to conquer the land, they could not separate themselves from the rest of the people. If they are willing to first fight alongside their brothers, then once the land was conquered they could return and have their own land outside of God’s Promised Land. They agreed to that, and Moses gave them his blessing to remain on the east side of the Jordon.
For the record: although we are told that half of the tribe of Manasseh stayed on the east side of the Jordon, in Numbers 26:29-32 we learn there are actually 8 sub-tribes of Manasseh and only 6 of those remained on the east side.
The subject of vows, specifically how a man (father or husband) is allowed to void the vow of a woman, would certainly be an interesting topic to discuss, given this age of empowerment of women and equal rights. However, although I am not a coward, I am not going there because I do have something else to discuss.
Rueben was one of the tribes that rebelled against Moses and Aaron in the desert, under the influence of Dathan and Abiram. Gad and Reuben had, I am sure, become close to each other because they were next to each other in both the camp and the march for 40 years. Now, Reuben, along with Gad and Manasseh, seem to be continuing on this path of rebellion.
Moses acquiesced to their request only on the condition that they fight alongside the other tribes to do as God had commanded them, and to make sure that the other tribes are as well settled as they would be, before they could completely settle in their own land, outside of God’s Promised Land.
And that brings me to the point of today’s message: they chose to reject God’s Promised Land because they liked what they saw and wanted it now, instead of trusting that God would provide for them later. Yes, the land there was favorable for cattle, but there were places in the land of Canaan that would have served just as well. Their choice to live where they liked, instead of doing as God had told them and trusting in him to make sure they would be provided for, demonstrated more of the same faithlessness that resulted in the death of 250 of their leading men. Eventually, they would be conquered by the Assyrians and disseminated throughout the world.
How often do we think that what we have now is better than what we might get? It’s like being on Let’s Make a Deal, and Monty Hall is asking if you want the prize you can see before you or the one in the box that Johnny is bringing down the aisle now? I suppose that Gad, Reuben, and Manasseh felt that way when they saw the beautiful cattle land before them and had no idea what was on the other side of the Jordon. They decided not to trust that God knew what they needed and was able to provide it for them, so they said they will stick with what they have now. Even though they were told that they would be on their own, they decided to take what’s here now instead of trust in God for later.
How often do we do that? How many times have we accepted what we see in front of us and settle for something that may not be what God has planned for us because it is easy and here, now? Why wait for something that may or may not be better when I see something I like that is here and available to me right this second? This is what God meant when he warned Cain, all those years ago, that sin is crouching at his door and he must conquer it. The here and now is what this world loves, but God is not subject to linear time and his timetable is based on what he knows is best for each of us. We want it now, and God wants us to have it when we are ready for it- BIG difference! And you know what? His timing is always perfect, and ours is almost always wrong.
The message today is that we must trust in God and not trust in our own feelings. We are, by nature, impatient and when we want something that we know God hasn’t provided, we are asking for trouble. We may not want to follow all the instructions in the Torah because they are harder than listening to our religious leaders who tell us we don’t have to follow them all. We may see a baked goods display at a banquet during Hag haMatzot (the seven days of no leavened products after Passover) and decide that we can forego the fast just for now because we can start it again tomorrow. Or maybe we will accept that invitation to go somewhere or do something we know we really shouldn’t be doing, but it just sounds like so much fun we can have and I am really bored right now.
Selfishness and pride will always lead us to the same place…Sheol. God knows what we need, God how much we need, and God knows the perfect time to give it to us. We, on the other hand, have no idea what we need, and whatever we think we need we want more of it than we really do need. And we want it N-O-W!!
Gad, Reuben, and Manasseh rejected the promise God gave them to provide a land rich in good things and accepted what they saw in front of them which they liked and wanted to have now. We all have that same potential to reject God’s good things promised to be given to us later for the good things the world offers us right this minute.
We think in terms of immediate satisfaction whereas God’s plans for us are eternal.
Let me finish today with this question: why settle for a moment of pleasure when you can have an eternity of joy?
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I wish you all Shabbat shalom and until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!