Building cities or tearing them down? In this week’s parasha we see Am Israel go to war against Midian, the primary settlement was east of the gulf of Aqabah, on the Saudi Arabian peninsula. The relevance of this battle is obvious, but most of us forget that the very location of that ancient battle has left us an enduring legacy.
Having completed the rout of Midian, Am Israel now proceeds up towards Edom and Moab, in preparation to cross over the Jordan river into Eretz HaKodesh. There the tribes of Reuben and Gad, owners of vast herds of cattle and flocks, and numerous other grazing beasts request from Moshe to settle there, rather than crossing over the Jordan:
ומקנה רב היה לבני ראובן ולבני-גד עצום מאד ויראו את-ארץ יעזר ואת-ארץ גלעד והנה המקום מקום מקנה: ויבאו בני-גד ובני ראובן ויאמרו אל-משה ואל-אלעזר הכהן ואל-נשיאי העדה לאמר: עטרות ודיבן ויעזר ונמרה וחשבון ואלעלה ושבם ונבו ובען: הארץ אשר הכה ה’ לפני עדת ישראל ארץ מקנה הוא ולעבדיך מקנה: ויאמרו אם-מצאנו חן בעיניך יתן את-הארץ הזאת לעבדיך לאחזה אל-תעברנו את-הירדן:
The children of Reuben and the children of Gad had abundant livestock – very great. They saw the land of Jazer and the land of Gilead, and behold! – the place was a place for livestock. The children of Gad and the children of Reuben came and said to Moshe, to Elazar the Kohen, and to the leaders of the assembly, saying, “Ataroth, and Dibon, and Jazer, and Nimrah, and Heshbon, and Elealeh, and Sebam, and Nebo, and Beon – the land that Hashem smote before the assembly of Israel – it is a land for livestock, and your servants have livestock.” They said, |”If we have found favor in your eyes, let this land be given to your servants as a heritage; do not bring us across the Jordan.” (Num.32:1-5)
Moshe, obviously objects, stating the obvious – why should they avoid battle while the rest of the people jeopardize their lives? Moreover, this very action could result in the rest of Am Israel from crossing the Jordan to take their inheritance. Moshe reminds them that this is precisely what happened when he sent scouts to report on the land.
But there is more than what simply meets the eye here. This is not, in fact, the Land that Hashem intended for us to settle. Nowhere does it say that Eretz HaKodesh would be east of the Jordan River. Up to the Jordan, yes. Right up to the very edge. But not over. Moshe doesn’t just stop at reminding them that they can’t shirk the duty of going to battle. He continues on and on about it. Why?
The directives were quite clear: In parashat Re’eh, the very outlines of the land are given:
כי אתם עברים את-הירדן לבא לרשם את-הארץ אשר-ה’ אלוהיכם נתן לכם וירשתם אתה וישבתם-בה:
“For you are about to cross the Jordan to enter and possess the land…occupy it and settle in it“ (Deut. 11:31)
Indeed, why does Moshe allow the tribes of Reuben and Gad to sway him? What compelling argument is there for taking extra lands? And the active word is, in fact “take.” Nine and a half tribes have land given to them, but Reuven, Gad and half of Manassah “take ” lands:
ויצו משה את-בני ישראל לאמר זאת הארץ אשר תתנחלו אתה בגורל אשר צוה ה’ לתת לתשעת המטות וחצי המטה: כי לקחו מטה בני הראובני לבית אבתם ומטה בני-גדי לבית אבתם וחצי מטה מנשה לקחו נחלתםץ שני המטות וחצי המטה לרחו נחלתם מעבר לירדן ירחו קדמה מזרחי:
Moshe commanded the Children of Israel, saying: This is the Land that you shall divide as an inheritance by lot, which Hashem has commanded to give to the nine-and-a –half tribes. For the tribe of the children of Reuven and the tribe of the children of Gad, according to their father’s house, and half the tribe of Manasseh have taken their inheritance. Two-and-a-half tribes have taken their inheritance on the bank of the Jordan by Jericho, eastward toward the sunrise. (Num.34:13-15)
What’s the message? That which is a G-d given gift, you will possess without question. But what you take, even if you manage to convince G-d to give it, will be more problematic.
Yes, we can persuade G-d to change His mind, we can convince the government or the court to re-evaluate and re-interpret law. We can acquire more than Hashem designates (and not just land). But if we do possess those things, or that land, others will continuously stake claim to them as well.
Many today are stating that while some destroy, throw rockets, and hide beneath the cover of their own children, we have a G-d given responsibility to build, specifically where others destroy. Now, more than ever, is it necessary to stake a claim on all of the Land we possess by right. There should be a Givat Naphtali, Kiryat Gilad, and Ramat Eyal. The places where their blood was spilled is part of our inheritance – west of Jordan, in Judah’s possession. We don’t have to justify why those neighborhoods are our inheritance.