Parashat Matot // “Heads of the Tribe”

- ד נ י -

The tribes of Reuben and Gad are punished for their request to settle east of the Jordan River

Moses ascends to the summit of Mount Nebo and gazes upon the splendid Promised Land

“Now the children of Reuben and the children of Gad had a very great multitude of cattle:… The children of Gad and the children of Reuben came and spake unto Moses, and to Eleazar the priest, and unto the princes of the congregation, saying, Ataroth, and Dibon, and Jazer, and Nimrah, and Heshbon, and Elealeh, and Shebam, and Nebo, and Beon, Even the country which the LORD smote before the congregation of Israel, is a land for cattle, and thy servants have cattle: Wherefore, said they, if we have found grace in thy sight, let this land be given unto thy servants for a possession, and bring us not over Jordan. Numbers 32:1 – 6

  • The tribes of Reuben and Gad ask to stay on the eastern bank of the Jordan River and settle it. Moses rebukes them for their decision to not cross into the land of Israel and help their brethren conquer and settle it. What’s more, the reason for their refusal is that they are prioritizing their material pursuits. In renouncing their mission to conquer and settle the land that God has intended for them, the two wayward tribes pose a threat to Israel’s national unity. More importantly, however, they are forfeiting the opportunity for their descendants to be educated alongside their brethren. 

Moses reaches a settlement with the tribes of Reuben and Gad and the Israelites remain united

“And the LORD’S anger was kindled the same time, and he sware, saying, Surely none of the men that came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob…And the children of Gad and the children of Reuben spake unto Moses, saying, Thy servants will do as my lord commandeth. Our little ones, our wives, our flocks, and all our cattle, shall be there in the cities of Gilead” Numbers 32:25 – 26

  • After the tribes of Reuben and Gad are reprimanded, the remaining tribes comply with Moses’ request – and the conflict is resolved. The men will join their brethren in the conquest while their wives and children remain at home. Moses once again proves that he is a shrewd and humble leader who can resolve conflicts and ensure that all of the tribes continue to be part of the same nation. As such, all of the factions and leaders of Israel find common ground and put the interests of the many above their own. National unity can be preserved when conflicting parties are willing to compromise.

Pearls of Divine Wisdom: “Heads of the Tribe”

  • Absolute certainty is what caused the Red Sea to part, the Torah to be given, and the Promised Land to be conquered. The Israelites’ wanderings in the desert – documented across the entire Book of Numbers – are part of the journey from darkness to light; from collapse and despair to perfection and salvation.
  • Spiritual perseverance is deeply important. As opposed to material endeavors, we cannot take our personal growth lightly. We must cling to our mission – it is the compass that will guide us towards the cosmic unity of the Garden of Eden and the spiritual world.
  • We must likewise release ourselves from self – centered perceptions and external influences so that we can focus on otherness, humility, and acceptance of our shortcomings.
  • As opposed to the natural world, where the capacity of a vessel cannot exceed its volume, in the world of faith the opposite is true – the greater the wisdom, the greater the potential to expand it. 
  • There is no limit to our spiritual journey. We must all strive to attain as much as we can and not settle for small accomplishments. In the divine realm, blessings can be cast even upon those who are already “full.”

Like faith, certainty is knowing, without a doubt, that we are creations of God and that all we experience is good.