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    In Search for a


    The Old Man.

    Arnold had reached

    the age of 105 and

    suddenly stopped

    going to synagogue.

    Worried by Arnold’s

    absence after so

    many years of faithful attendance, his rabbi went

    to see him. He found him in excellent health, so

    the Rabbi asked, “How come after all these years

    we don’t see you at services anymore?” Arnold

    looked around and lowered his voice. “I’ll tell

    you, Rabbi,” he whispered. “When I got to be 90,

    I expected Hashem to take me any day. But then

    I got to be 95, then 100, then 105. So I figured

    that G-d is very busy and must have “forgotten”

    about me and I don’t want to remind Him.”

    The Eastern Colonists The children of Israel are

    en route to the Land of Canaan when they are

    attacked by the armies of Sichon and Og, whose

    domain lay on the eastern bank of the Jordanian

    river. Moses leads the Israelites into battle,

    defeats the two kings and conquers their land. In

    an unexpected turn of events, the tribes of Gad

    and Reuben, who own an enormous amount of

    sheep and cattle, ask that they be given these

    territories, which were prime pastureland, in lieu

    of their allotment in the land of Canaan, which

    lay to the west of the Jordan. “The descendants

    of Reuben and Gad had an extremely large

    number of animals,” the Bible relates in this

    week’s portion. “And they saw that the Ya’zer

    and Gilead areas were good for livestock. The

    descendants of Gad and Reuben came and

    presented the following petition to Moses… ‘If

    we have found favor in your eyes, may this land

    be given to your servants for a possession; do

    not take us across the Jordan.'” Moses becomes

    extremely upset. He gives them a fiery and

    dramatic sermon that lasts ten complete verses,

    a pretty long stretch in biblical narrative. “Shall

    your brothers go to war while you sit here?”

    Moses thunders. “Why do you dissuade the

    heart of the children of Israel from crossing to

    the land that Hashem has given them”? Forty

    years earlier, he reminds them, the people of

    Israel had been poised to enter the land of

    Canaan. But following a negative report by the

    spies who were sent to scout the land, the entire

    nation spurned the land promised to their

    ancestors as the eternal heritage of Israel.

    Hashem decreed that they remain in the desert

    for forty years, until that entire generation died

    out and a new generation prepared to accept the

    gift and challenge of the Promised Land. And

    now, said Moses to the Reubenites and the

    Gadites, you are repeating the sin of the Spies —

    a sin which condemned an entire generation and

    stopped Jewish history in its tracks for forty

    years. Like your parents before you, you are

    about to dissuade the heart of your brethren

    from entering the land. “You will destroy this

    entire nation,” Moses concludes his passionate

    rebuke. The Reubenites and Gadites accept

    Moses’ words with grace. In response, they

    clarify their original position. Far from seeking

    to free themselves from the impending

    wars for the Land, they were fully

    prepared to send their troops into the

    Land and take a leading role in the battles

    until they were successfully concluded.

    Only then would they return to the lands

    allotted to them in the east. “We will not

    return to our homes until every Israelite

    has received his Inheritance,” they

    pledge. Moses consents to their plea. He

    changes his tone and grants them the

    territories they requested. The Questions

    Several points in this narrative are

    perplexing. First, since their intentions it

    seems, were really pure (they never had

    in mind to abandon their brethren going

    to war), how did Moses misread them so

    profoundly and grow so furious with them?

    Why did Moses not first inquire what their

    intentions were before coming down so hard on

    them? Second, Moses’ words focused on the

    point that it was unacceptable that one segment

    of Jewry isolates from the rest of the nation,

    shirking responsibility and escaping the fate of

    their brethren. But what about the seemingly

    more important point: Hashem wanted the Jews

    to settle the land at the west of the Jordan! These

    people decided that they wish to remain in the

    Trans-Jordan, but who gave these two tribes the

    right to redefine the plan and choose the East

    instead of the West? Why did Moses consent to

    their request? Searching for the Sub-Plot Every

    serious student of the Hebrew Bible is aware

    that most biblical plots contain sub-plots (often

    sub-sub plots), rarely articulated in the narrative

    explicitly. Our present tale is no exception:

    The explicit narrative is about two tribes of

    Israel concerned with their enormous

    amount of livestock. Yet the drama in

    which this episode is captured in the Torah

    somehow gives one a sense that these

    tribes were not only concerned about their

    cattle; something very personal was at

    stake in their request to remain in the

    Trans-Jordan. What was it? The Bible

    gives us no hint. There is no way of

    knowing. We are left in the dark until

    Moses is about to leave the world. In the

    last section of Deuteronomy, just moments

    before his passing, Moses speaks to each

    of the twelve tribes of Israel. His words to

    the tribe of Gad must be heeded to

    carefully: “He [Gad] chose the first portion

    [of land available], for that is where the

    lawgiver’s plot is hidden.” Unlimited

    Loyalty These brief cryptic words, at last,

    expose to us the true reason behind Gad’s

    insistence to settle the territory to the East

    of the Jordan. Moses, the lawgiver, was

    destined to die in the East and never to

    cross the Jordan. Gad pined to remain with

    Moses. Gad would not allow Moses’

    burial plot to remain isolated in the plains

    of Moab devoid of the presence of even a

    single Jew. The cry of Gad and Reuben

    “Do not take us across the Jordan,” was a

    plea not to separate them from Moses. If

    Moses is not destined to cross the river,

    they too did not wish to cross it. These

    were no mere farmers worrying about

    real-estate. These were souls so deeply

    attached to their Rebbe who were

    determined to spend their lives near the

    resting place of Moses. Moses’ Intuition

    Moses, clearly, did not anticipate such a

    movement. When the members of the

    tribes of Gad and Reuben approached him

    with their request, they naturally could not

    communicate the entire truth. They would

    not talk to Moses about his own death and

    his gravesite. Instead, they discussed

    secondary, albeit not dishonest,

    motivations, namely the fate of their abundant

    cattle. Moses, in his intuition, felt that what they

    were expressing to him did not capture the entire

    story. Moses sensed that their words eclipsed a

    deeper truth. He thus suspected them in

    contriving a scheme designed to escape

    responsibility. Hence, he rebuked them severely.

    Yet surprisingly, they accepted Moses’ words in

    grace. The narrative makes it clear that they were

    not upset by the false accusations Moses thrust

    upon them. Why not? Because they knew that

    they were not being straightforward. Above all,

    this was not about them and their ego; it was

    about their selfless love and dedication to

    Moses. His fury did not alienate them, it merely

    demonstrated once again the genuine leader

    Moses was and strengthened their resolve to

    remain in his proximity for eternity. Moses

    agreed to fulfill their request. He could not tear

    himself away from the people he dedicated his

    life to. If his people reciprocated the love he

    showered upon them, he would not be the one to

    expel them from his midst. And at the last

    moments before his death, he extols Gad for this

    deeply loving choice. The mistake Yet, after all

    is said, rabbinic commentary does criticize the

    Reubenites and Gadites for their decision to

    remain in the Trans-Jordan. The verse in

    Proverbs, “If an inheritance is seized hastily in

    the beginning, its end will not be blessed,” is

    applied in the Midrash to the two tribes who

    seized the territory to the East of the Jordan.

    Centuries later, when the Jews are exiled from

    their land through the Assyrian and later

    Babylonian empires, it is these two tribes who

    are the first to be exiled from their land. Why?

    Notwithstanding the noble and deeply moving

    intentions of Gad and Reuben, their choice is

    considered “hasty” and immature. It was

    emotionally compelling and profoundly

    moving, but spiritually short sighted. Yes, Gad

    and Reuben could not abandon Moses’ burial

    place. They were determined to remain in the

    proximity of Moses’ body. Yet they failed to

    realize that Moses’ true presence would not

    remain interred in the earth of the plains of

    Moab. Moses would continue to live on in his

    vision, in his ideas, in his teachings. And Moses

    vision was that the Jewish people fulfill their

    Hashem given mandate to enter the Land of

    Canaan, settle it and transform it into a Holy

    Land, redefining the physical landscape of the

    land as an abode for Hashemliness. Moses was

    never comprised of simple matter so that his

    identity would be defined merely in terms of his

    physical body. Moses’ life embodied a truth, a

    vision, a way of looking at the world and

    understanding the objective of man’s journey on

    this earth. As long as that truth would live in the

    hearts of people dedicated to Moses’ dream of

    transforming the earthy land of Canaan into a

    divine landscape, Moses would remain alive. To

    be in the physical presence of Moses is great.

    Greater yet is to leave his presence and fulfill his

    mission to settle the Holy Land.