פרשת מטות-מסעי

(Matos-Masei)

The Lofty Ideals of the Tribes of Gad and Reuven

ומקנה רב היה לבני ראובן ולבני גד וכו – The Tribes of Reuven and Gad had abundant livestock… ויבאו בני גד ובני ראובן ויאמרו אל משה ואל אלעזר הכהן ואל נשיאי העדה לאמר, עטרות דיבן ויעזר ונמרה וחשבון ואלעלה ושבם ונבו ובען, הארץ אשר הכה ה’ לפני עדת ישראל ארת מקנה היא ולעבדיך מקנה – The Tribes of Gad and Reuven came and said before Moshe, Elazar the Kohen, and to the nobility of the congregation (the cities of) Ataros, Divon, Yazer, Nimrah, Chesbon, Elealah, Sevam, Nevo, and Boan the land which Hashem smote before the entire congregation of Israel. ויאמרו אם מצאנו חן בעיניך יתן את הארץ הזאת לעבדיך לאחזה אל תעבירנה את הירדן – If we have found favor in your eyes, let this land be given to your servants for a possession, do not bring us over the Jordan River [1].”

The commentators are unsatisfied with a number of discrepancies in the parsha. At first Reuven is mentioned prior to Gad. This is seemingly the way it should be written as Reuven was the firstborn of all the Tribes. Yet from that point on, the entire parsha has Gad preceding Reuven.

There are also a few ambiguities in the petition presented by the tribes of Gad and Reuven.

What prompted them to forego their portion in Israel and trade it for the spiritually inferior land on the other side of the Jordan River? Reb Simcha Bunim of Peshischa [2] enlightens us with his novel approach on the pasuk “ומקנה רב – abundant livestock.” An alternative interpretation is a “great kinyan/acquisition” (קנה means to acquire), referring to the relationship they had with their Rebbe, Moshe Rabbeinu. In other words, due to the unique relationship the tribes of Gad and Reuven had with Moshe, their Rebbe, they refused to leave the land in which their teacher and leader would eventually be buried. They were even willing to forego their portion in the Land of Israel! It was not their lack of regard for the Holy Land that was the basis of their request. Rather, it was their reverence and love for their esteemed leader and teacher that motivated them to remain in Trans-Jordan.

This idea is strengthened by the words of both the Targum Onkelos [3] and the Targum Yonasan [4] who during the request of Reuven and Gad explain the locale, Nevo, as the burial place of Moshe. However later in the parsha [5], while discussing the actual building of cities in Trans-Jordan, the Targum Onkelos and Yonasan both refer to Nevo as merely the city of Nevo.

We find in the Parsha of Ve’Zos Habracha [6], in Moshe’s blessing of the Tribe of Gad, that it says “וירא ראשית לו כי שם חלקת מחקק ספון – And he chose the first part for himself ‘for there a portion of a ruler was reserved.” Rashi explains these words to mean that the Tribe of Gad knew that Moshe would be interred in that territory. We can deduce from these words that although both Reuven and Gad were in on the plan, Moshe gave special praise to Gad for he was the initiator of the entire idea.

We can now understand that the Torah first mentions Reuven the first born and then changes gears and makes mention of Gad prior to Reuven the next seven times as if pointing out to us that Gad played the main role in this request.

This can also be suggested as the reason why Moshe was buried in Gad’s portion of the land. Since the request to remain on the other side of the Jordan was made by both tribes equally, should they not have both “shared” in this merit? The Gemara [7] reveals to us that Moshe actually expired in Reuven’s portion and was transported by Hashem Himself a distance of four mil [8] into Gad’s portion to be interred there.

There is an obvious question here. Could not the burial have been facilitated in such a manner that Moshe would have passed on and been buried in the same place? Particularly because both tribes had a uniquely strong bond with their Rebbi Moshe it was only right that both should equally posses a share in his passing from this world. His eternal resting place was in Gad’s portion of land since he initiated the request, but for a short time Moshe lay in Reuven’s portion since Reuven also sacrificed living in the land of Israel for Moshe’s sake.

Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Sochet

[1]] Bamidbar/Numbers 32:1-5
[2] Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa (1765–1827) was one of the great Chasidic leaders of Chasidic Judaism in Poland.
[3] Targum Onkelos was written by Onkelos, a convert to Judaism in Tanaic times (c. 35–120 CE). He was a member of the Roman royal family. His mother was Hadrian’s sister and his father was known as Klonikas.
[4] Targum Yonasan – the Gemara (Megillah 3A) attributes its authorship to Reb Yonasan ben Uziel. Its overall style is very similar to that of Targum Onkelos, though at times it seems to be a looser paraphrase.
[5] See Pasuk 38
[6] Devarim/Deuteronomy 33:21
[7] Tractate Sotah 13B
[8] A Mil is the Talmudic expression of a mile. It is roughly 1049-1258 yd. and according to the Gemara it takes an average of 18 minutes to walk.