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Getting Your Priorities Straight

Matot (Numbers 30:2-32:42 )


Having conquered Transjordan en route to Canaan, the tribes of Gad and Reuben approached Moses. “The land that God smote before the assembly of Israel it is a land for livestock, and your servants have livestock... let this land be given to your servants as a heritage; do not bring us across the Jordan” (Deut. 32:4-5).

Although the tribes of Gad and Reuben were foremost in the battle for Canaan, they were nevertheless guilty of rejecting their portion in Canaan in favor of the rich grazing lands in Transjordan. When the Jews were driven from the Holy Land, the tribes of Gad and Reuben were the first to be exiled. The Midrash states that this was because they had chosen Transjordan over Canaan (Bamidbar Rabbah 22).

Rabbi Aharon Kotler states that the intentions of the two tribes may have seemed commendable. With abundant grazing land for their livestock, they would not have to work as hard as farmers, and they would have more time to devote to Torah study. However, the fact was that this was not their true motivation. Their decision was induced by the wealth that Transjordan would bring them, and for this they abdicated the additional mitzvot that prevailed in Canaan: bikkurim (the offering of the first fruits), the Omer, the offering of the loaves on Shavuot. And the result? Not only did they forfeit the mitzvot, but they were also the first to lose their land.

The accounts in the Torah are intended for teaching and guidance rather than history. We have so many waking hours which we allot to prayer, Torah study and work. Which of these gets the lion's share? Is it proper that we often make short order of our morning prayers in order to get to the office as early as possible?

There are some traits that are innate, and others that are developed by habit. The acquisitive drive is inborn, and since it may detract us from our spiritual goals, we should seek to attenuate it. Reinforcing the acquisitive drive by habit allows it to dominate our lives. But we should realize that any monetary gain achieved at the cost of neglecting mitzvot is not likely to endure.

We would do well to rethink our priorities (Mishnas R' Ahron p. 226).

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