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Dvar for Matot-Maasei (Numbers 30:2-36:13)

After Moshe lost an entire generation of Jews because they resisted entering the land of Israel, in Parshat Matot they seem to be doing the exact same thing. As they prepare to enter the land, the shevatim (tribes) of Reuven and Gad approach Moshe with a similar request. This time they claim to want to “build for their flocks and cities for the small children” (32:16). After warning them not to make the same mistake as the previous generation, Moshe agrees to let them live outside of the Promised Land, but appears to bargain with them by getting them to agree to help the others fight for the land first. Why did Moshe agree to let them live outside of the promised land, and what did he bargain for?

A closer inspection of the dialogue helps us answer these questions, and can help us understand the importance of setting priorities. When Moshe responds to them (32:24), he tells them to “build for yourselves cities for your small children and pens for your flocks”, exactly the opposite order in which they asked. What Moshe was really telling them was that if they’re really looking out for the well-being of their children, then look after them (i.e. their perspectives) before building yourselves cities and buildings. This can also be why he allowed them to settle outside the Land altogether: Moshe understood that it wasn’t that the tribes lacked faith in their destiny, because they were willing to fight for it with everyone else, but rather that from their perspective living right outside the Land would be better for them logistically. Being able to accept other perspectives, despite initial fears and uncertainties, is the true test of being a thoughtful Jew, a positive parent and an understanding person.