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    And they said,

    “We will build

    sheep pens for our

    livestock here and

    cities for our

    children.” (32:16)

    The Jewish people reached the

    plains of Moav, the jumping-off

    point for the invasion of Canaan,

    which was imminent. But the tribes

    of Gad and Reuven, rich in

    livestock, preferred the lush

    pasturelands of the Trans-Jordan to

    shares in Eretz Yisrael proper.

    They asked Moshe for permission

    to take their share in the

    Trans-Jordan. Moshe berated them

    for letting the others fight to

    conquer Canaan while they settled

    down in their ranches.

    Furthermore, their reluctance to

    cross would have a demoralizing

    effect on the others, just as the

    report of the Meraglim had

    demoralized the people thirty-eight

    years earlier. “This is what we

    want to do,” they said to Moshe.

    “We want to build sheep pens for

    our livestock here and towns for

    our children. Then we will go

    quickly at the head of the army and

    fight until the land is conquered

    and apportioned. Only then will we

    return to our homes.” “All right,”

    said Moshe (32:24), “build towns

    for your children and pens for your

    sheep. And make sure you keep

    your word.” Notice that Moshe

    reversed the order of their

    priorities. They wanted to “build

    sheep pens for our livestock here

    and towns for our children.” First

    let us take care of the livestock. Let

    us make sure we have pens in

    which to keep them so they don’t

    wander off into the hills and get

    lost or stolen. Cows and sheep

    are valuable assets, and we

    have to take good care of

    them. Then they spoke about

    building “towns for our

    children.” Then we will

    provide our children with a

    place to live while we are at

    war. Oh no, Moshe replied.

    You have it backwards. First

    of all, “build towns for your

    children.” Make sure you

    have attended to the needs of

    your children. Afterwards, you can

    also build “pens for your sheep.”

    First you take care of your

    children, then you worry about

    your cattle. The Midrash sums up

    the exchange with the verse

    (Koheles 10:2), “The heart of the

    wise man is on his right, and the

    heart of the fool is on his left.”

    Moshe’s heart was on the right. He

    had his priorities right. Their hearts

    were on the left. They gave

    precedence to secondary

    considerations. They were

    more worried about their

    money than their children.

    When we look at this incident,

    we say to ourselves, “How

    foolish can people be? How

    warped can their values be?

    How can anyone put the

    welfare of his cattle before the

    welfare of his children?”

    Unfortunately, this is not an

    isolated incident, something

    bizarre that happened

    thousands of years ago. It is an

    everyday phenomenon. People

    become focused on their

    livelihood, on developing a

    business, on advancing

    professionally, on building a

    practice, and their kids get lost

    in the shuffle. They don’t

    realize that they are making the

    exact same mistake as the

    tribes of Gad and Reuven. But

    it is true. It happens all too

    often. Rashi writes (32:24) that

    the tribes of Gad and Reuven

    did not return home to the

    Trans-Jordan until after the

    seven years of conquest and

    the seven years of apportionment.

    They remained in Eretz Yisrael for

    a full fourteen years. Those little

    children they left behind — let’s

    assume they were 3 or 4 years old

    — how old were they when their

    fathers returned home? Teenagers!

    Practically adults. The Midrash

    tells us that their fathers were

    shocked to find that their sons had

    long hair, that they were

    indistinguishable from their pagan

    neighbors. This is what happens

    when parents give priority to their

    wealth over their children. The

    Ksav Sofer raises a question with

    the latter part of Moshe’s words.

    After helping the tribes of Gad and

    Reuven get their priorities straight,

    he told them, “Make sure you keep

    your word.” Why was this

    necessary? The answer, says the

    Ksav Sofer, is that Moshe knew

    with whom he was dealing. People

    who could even think of protecting

    their money before they protect

    their children cannot be trusted.

    They are so intent on their wealth

    that they can do anything.

    Therefore, Moshe had to exhort

    them to keep their word. Rav

    Tzaddok Hakohein explains that

    the desire for money is greater than

    any other material drive, since it is

    the only one that is insatiable.

    There is a limit to how much a

    person can eat, to how many times

    he can commit adultery, but there

    is no limit to how much money he

    can accumulate. The quest for

    wealth can become more obsessive

    than any other quest. All too often,

    the children are the price of the