Favours? Not always – Shabbat Kodesh Parshat Matot-Masei

As we read on Shabbos the final stages of the long journey to the Promised Land, an odd incident is developing. The tribes of Reuben and Gad had by now large herds of livestock. Having passed and conquered the land of Jazer and the land of Gilead, they came to like the idea of settling there. The land is just across the Jordan River, in “walking distance”  from mainland Israel. And it had perfect conditions for their farming requirement. So their leaders approached Moshe Rabeinu and said: 

וַיֹּֽאמְר֗וּ אִם־מָצָ֤אנוּ חֵן֙ בְּעֵינֶ֔יךָ יֻתַּ֞ן אֶת־הָאָ֧רֶץ הַזֹּ֛את לַֽעֲבָדֶ֖יךָ לַֽאֲחֻזָּ֑ה אַל־תַּֽעֲבִרֵ֖נוּ אֶת־הַיַּרְדֵּֽן:

“If it pleases you, let this land be given to your servants as a heritage; do not take us across the Jordan.” 

Seems a polite and sensible request. 

Moshe Rabeinu however lashes out at them. Not only does he blame them for trying to get out of the forthcoming Battle to conquer the mainland, (Although they have already participated in the preceding battles) but furthermore – Moshe Rabeinu compares their stand to the revolt which happened when the Meraglim, the spies, dissuaded the people from moving to Eretz Yisrael (Which resulted in the 40 years delay!)

What was the great sin of their polite request?

Some years ago, I arrived at the airport for a flight, late (as usual). There was a big line waiting in the Check in area, and I approached the Lufthansa rep. standing at the end of the line – explaining my situation and asking for her help. I expected her to bring me to the check in counter. Instead – she raised her voice and said “You should have come early, I cannot help”  Dismayed –  I ran over to the first class counter – which was empty – presented my economy class ticket – and was swiftly checked in. By now, I had time to go back to the first rep. and tell her that her behaviour was wrong and I suspect it had to do with my Jewish rabbinical appearance! 

She remained calm, and said: I cannot do favours – which delay other people, even by a little time – they will be upset, and right so…… Sorry! 

Now – coming back to our Parsha. Moshe Rabeinu did not refuse their wish and reprimanded them – because the wish was not right. He was dismayed by the fact that they were not at all sensitive to the reaction of the rest of the people, who still had a battle to win before getting to their land. It was therefore an unfair request. Indeed, as soon as the two tribes reassured Moshe Rabeinu of their commitment to not only join the struggle for the mainland, but even be in the front of that battle, he agreed and they settled in their preferred land.

When we have a request, we must make sure that it does not have any (negative) impact on others who are in a similar position to ours. Perhaps this is all very simple, and yet we sometimes need to remind ourselves of simple matters of בין אדם לחבירו  i.e. Mitzvot bein Adam Le-Chaveró: The Ethics of Interpersonal Conduct.

Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh tov!

Rabbi Chaim Michael Biberfeld