Rabbi Krakowski: Parshas Matos


This week’s Sedra presents us with an extremely interesting episode. The Torah tells us that Shevet Reuven and Gad had abundant livestock, and consequently needed pasture land that could support such livestock. The Torah tells us that this prompted them to make a special request from Moshe Rabeinu. Reuven and Gad asked if instead of getting a portion in Eretz-Yisroel they could keep the conquered Transjordan cities and their surrounding territory. Moshe Rabeinu at first became upset at their request.  After Reuven and Gad explained that they were willing to spearhead the conquest of Eretz-Yisroel proper Moshe Rabeinu relented, and upon Hashem’s allowing such an arrangement, agreed to it. Moshe Rabeinu then proceeded to make his agreement conditional upon their leading the conquest. However, instead of saying that should they fail to keep their part of the bargain they would lose any right to the Land, Moshe Rabeinu told them instead that they would inherit with everyone else in Eretz Yisroel proper.

 This whole episode is baffling. Moshe Rabeinu at first gets upset at Reuven and Gad, and compares them to the Meraglim, but as soon as they agree to take part in the war he concedes. What changed after they explained that they were willing to spearhead the conquest of Eretz-Yisroel? Wasn’t Moshe Rabeinu’s issue that he understood them as preferring to stay in the “Midbar” rather than to inherit Eretz-Yisroel (exactly what Moshe Rabeinu was fighting for Hashem to allow him – the opportunity to enter Eretz-Yisroel)?

At the end of his rebuke of Gad and Reuven Moshe Rabeinu is explicit about the two problems he has with their request: 1) that they appear to prefer staying in the Midbar rather than enter Eretz-Yisroel, and 2) that by in a sense abandoning their brethren and staying behind as the bulk of the Nation is about to enter the Land, they would be demoralizing everyone else – their ‘dropping out’ at this critical moment would severely demoralize the rest of the Nation. While Reuven and Gad’s commitment to fight in the vanguard of the Conquest might alleviate Moshe Rabeinu’s second concern, it does not seem to answer the first problem.

How could Reuven and Gad wish to stay in Chutz LaAretz, and furthermore how could such a wish possibly be granted?

The truth is that from Klal-Yisroel’s conquest of Eretz-Yisroel until (at least) their first exile whatever they conquered had the status of Eretz-Yisroel. This being the case, it would seem that Moshe Rabeinu himself not only entered Eretz-Yisroel, but that he was actually buried in Eretz-Yisroel. If so how could Hashem tell Moshe Rabeinu that he would never enter Eretz-Yisroel?

The answer is simple. In order for any annexed piece to be considered part of Eretz-Yisroel there first has to be an Eretz-Yisroel. When Moshe Rabeinu passed on there wasn’t any Eretz-Yisroel. Eretz-Yisroel had yet to be. Therefore while at some point in time his burial place became Eretz-Yisroel, Moshe Rabeinu himself nonetheless had never entered Eretz-Yisroel.

When Reuven and Gad originally came to Moshe Rabeinu Moshe assumed that they weren’t planning on continuing the conquest. However, once they promised that they would spearhead the conquest of Eretz-Yisroel, Moshe Rabeinu understood that they didn’t wish to forfeit their entry into Eretz-Yisroel.  It is for this reason that Moshe Rabeinu told them that if they did not end up leading the conquest they would still nevertheless inherit a portion in Eretz-Yisroel.

Ahavas Eretz-Yisroel must be a given for every Jew. If one prefers Chutz LaAretz over Eretz-Yisroel one is in some way comparable to the Meraglim. However, if one has Ahavas HaAretz, then even if one doesn’t end up living there, one surely will still have a portion awaiting him in Eretz-Yisroel.

A very warm Good Shabbos, Rabbi Y. Dov Krakowski