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Masay(Numbers 33-36)

Priorities

In this week's parsha, the Jewish people are in final preparations for entering the Land of Israel. Two of the tribes, Reuven and Gad have been blessed with such an abundance of flocks and herds, that they anticipate not having enough grazing land in Israel. So they propose the following: Instead of taking our regular portion of land within Israel proper, we'll instead stay here on the Eastern side of the Jordan River.

Moses' reaction to this request? He lambastes them! Why? Moses wasn't upset that they were choosing to stay outside Israel – actually they were helping to gather sparks of kabbalistic holiness from around the world. Rather, Moses was upset because when making their request, Reuven and Gad blatantly disregard the needs of their children – and mention their cattle only. (Numbers 32:4)

The leaders of Reuven and Gad get the hint. Somewhat. In 32:16, they approach Moses again and restate their request. This time they mention their children – but only after first speaking of their cattle. Moses again is not happy at their lack of priority for putting business ahead of family.

Finally, they seem get the idea. In 32:26, they put everything in the proper order – family first, business second.

Overworked

We've all met people who are working overtime to "give their kids something extra" – while ruining that very relationship by not spending enough time with the kids!

Imagine the case of Mr. Schwartz, an investment banker in a major Wall Street financial firm. He spends most of his days trying to reach his lifelong goal of earning $10 million. He and his wife have three children.

One day, a wealthy philanthropist named Mr. Cohen, who unfortunately has no children, decides to make Schwartz a very generous offer. Cohen says, "You're spending your whole life to make $10 million dollars, right? But your kids are growing up without a father. You're off to work before they get up, and home long after they've gone to sleep. On weekends, you're at the club entertaining business clients. So I'll give you the biggest shortcut of your financial career. I'm willing to offer you $10 million dollars in exchange for the rights to adopt one of your children. He will have the best of everything. The only condition is that you will never be able to see or hear from him again."

What does Schwartz say? Ten million dollars certainly gets his attention! But even he realizes that there are things in life you can't put a price tag on. Schwartz stares Cohen right between the eyes and announces: "No deal."

Ten million dollars. "Money can't buy you love." (Somebody should write a song about that.)

Family Vacation

Now imagine the scene. Schwartz has just shut the door on a cool 10 million. He rushes home where his kids are playing on the living room floor. What do you think he does when he sees them?

With tears in his eyes, he runs over and gives them each a big hug and kiss. "You darling creatures are worth more than all the money in the universe!"

Then he stops and realizes: "Where have I been all their lives? I have something at home that's worth more to me than all the money in the world – and I'm working so hard I barely spend one hour a week with them!"

So what does Schwartz do? He calls the office, announces he's taking a two-week vacation, and sends the maids, nannies and babysitters away. He's going to spend two blissful weeks with his kids.

After struggling for an hour to get the stroller open, Schwartz finally makes it to the park. He and the kids are having a grand time. But then comes dinner, bath and story time. After enduring food fights, floods in the bathtub and endless readings of "Babar Goes to the Circus," Schwartz flops down on the couch, turns to his wife and says, "Perhaps I was a bit hasty about that vacation. You know I have a lot of responsibilities at work..."

Schwartz is making a big mistake. More than presents, children need your presence.

Your Money or Your Life

The Torah tells us to recite the "Shema" prayer twice each day. It says: "And you shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your resources."

Typically the Torah presents a series as a progression from easiest to hardest: Love God emotionally ("heart"), and even be willing to give up your life if necessary ("soul"), and even be willing to spend your money, too!

Yet if this is a progression, are there really people who consider money more important than life itself?!

And the answer is yes. The Talmud speaks about someone who walks across a thorny field, and picks up his pants in order to avoid getting them ripped. Of course, the person's legs get all cut up and scratched – but at least the pants are saved!

One time I had to stay overnight in Nevada, where gambling is legal and every hotel has a casino. I went up to my hotel room and wanted to open the window to get some fresh air. But the window wouldn't open more than a crack. I thought it was stuck. So I pushed harder and harder. Finally I asked: "What is the problem with this window?"

I was told that the windows in this hotel are specially designed not to open more than a crack. This way, people who have lost money gambling won't be tempted to jump out the window and kill themselves.

Priorities.

The Lesson is Clear

In our Parsha, after traveling through the desert for 40 years and enduring countless trials and tribulations, the Jewish people are now standing across the Jordan, ready to enter the Promised Land. It is one of the defining moments in all of Jewish history.

But Reuven and Gad say they'd rather take good grazing land than enter Israel!

They had come so far, but they only went halfway. They were distracted by material goals when it really counted.

The Talmud says that when Reuven and Gad later saw the rich life in the Land of Israel, they regretted their decision. But the story has an even sadder ending: When Assyrian King Sanchereb exiled the Jewish people during the time of the First Temple, the first tribes to be conquered and sent away were, you guessed it, Reuven and Gad.

It happens to all of us from time to time. Objectively, we can know our priorities. But sometimes we get distracted.

May we have the strength and clarity to connect our heart to our mind – and to act upon that which we intellectually know to be right.


Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Shraga Simmons

Published: July 22, 2000

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Visitor Comments: 5

(5) Catherine, July 8, 2007 9:39 PM

the bigger picture looks brighter ..ahead!

I think that Reuven and Gad were impatient. At first they saw the land not as they expected it to be, not so good, and they didnt remember what God had said,,that Israel would be a land flowing with milk and honey, so that shows also that they didnt love GOd with there whole mind and whole heart enough to think of the bigger picture that wasnt exactly there at the exact time that they were looking at it. Even after seeing the "Miracles and Wonders," they still lacked something. They didnt show that they had Hope. and that they trust in God. They really didnt beleive God or trust him completly, because they didnt see everything perfectly and instantly. We can say the same today. Just because we dont see a "world without war" and just because we dont see "peace in Israel" like the way it was 3 thousand years ago, the way God originally intended it to be for His people Israel, doesnt mean that its not going to happen. It will happen. God promised it. Yes it looks bad right now, but i beleive things will change to the way it was in those days of Moses and Joshua in the "promised land" again. In Gods time. So we should keep his ways, learn everyday and never stop beleiving in this hope for Gods people. I beleive. thank you i enjoyed this article...

(4) mike, July 8, 2007 7:42 PM

great article

there are few times when i can read/hear something and fully agree with it. R' Simmons, this was one of those rare times. thank you, mike

(3) Arthur A., July 13, 2004 12:00 AM

I find it very hard...

To be constantly aware of the priorities i have set upon myself. I suppose the richness of the world silently tries to divert us from our goals. I cannot trust my judgement enough to think i am right about what i really want. maybe i would settle for what Reuven and Gad decided - and pay the price generations later. Can we trust ourselves?

(2) Jack L. Yohay, July 19, 2001 12:00 AM

Somehow first saying thank you for one d'var Torah has priority over moving along to the next! Shabbat(ot) shalom and well over the fast.

(1) Carl Mathis, July 18, 2001 12:00 AM

You're absolutely right

Money can't buy what the heart should give.

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