There’s an issue in downtown parshas Mattos (perek 32) which has bothered me for quite a while, and I’d like to try and unravel it this week. The Bnei Yisrael, camping in Ever Hayarden (the eastern side of the River Jordan) are finally ready to enter Eretz Yisrael after forty years of meandering through the desert. Suddenly, the tribes of Reuven and Gad come forward and tell Moshe Rebeinu that they have a proposition for him. Due to their vast wealth in the form of cattle, these two tribes request to settle in Ever Hayarden as opposed to in Eretz Yisrael with the other tribes, for Ever Hayarden had better pasture for cattle-grazing purposes. What are these two tribes thinking; HaShem has finally led them to the brink of Eretz Yisrael, and they then ask Moshe for permission to live on the other side of the Jordan River solely due to their cattle?!? And to make matters even more perplexing, Moshe Rabeinu does not ‘go berserk’ at this idea (he doesn’t even seem to ask HaShem on this one); he is only worried that these two tribes will influence the rest of the Bnei Yisrael not to conquer the Land of Israel (32:7). Thus, when Reuven and Gad promise that they will join their brothers and fight to conquer Eretz Yisrael before they settle themselves in Ever Hayarden, Moshe accepts their request. Why did Moshe allow Reuven and Gad (and half of Menashe) to live in Every Hayarden; what happened to the end goal of living in Eretz Yisrael? Described in parable form, the event would go as follows: you approach your Rabbi, asking him for permission to eat, work, and not to go to Shul on Yom Kippur, for you feel that this is the best thing for your career. The Rabbi strokes his beard for a few moments and tells you that he thinks it’s a good idea; as long as you promise not to influence the other congregants to do the same thing. A little strange, don’t you think? How is one to make sense of the request of Reuven and Gad and its acceptance?
In order to deal with our question, we will need to look into the status of Ever Hayarden; is it part of Eretz Yisrael proper or not? If not, how could these two tribes have their request accepted? And if it is part of Eretz Yisrael, why did they need to put in a special request to Moshe for it, and why would Moshe be worried that they might influence the rest of the Bnei Yisrael if Ever Hayarden was going to go to one of the tribes anyway? So let’s go on a halachic tour of Ever Hayarden…
Firstly, there is a three-sided dispute as to whether Ever Hayarden was included in HaShem’s original promise to Avraham Avinu to inherit the Land.[1] The opinion of Rashi[2] and the Ramban[3] seems to be that Ever Hayarden was part of the original promise to Avraham Avinu. Apparently, Dayan Abramski in his ‘Kuntruss Eretz Yisrael’ proves the correctness of this view at length. However, Rav Moshe Feinstein[4] disagrees, and the Brisker Rav[5] proves from the Talmud Yerushalmi that the lands possessed by Reuven and Gad in Ever Hayarden were not part of the original covenant with Avraham Avinu. The Brisker Rav goes on to distinguish this from the part of Ever Hayarden given to half of the tribe of Menashe; this was part of the covenant with Avraham. The Ohr HaChaim is in doubt as to whether Ever Hayarden was included in the original promise; he writes two contradictorily alternative positions on the subject.[6] However, with regards to the halachos of Shmittah, Terumah, and Ma’aser (laws dependant upon the Land) Ever Hayarden is treated as being firmly part of Eretz Yisrael.[7]
Therefore, according to everyone we have mentioned, Ever Hayarden is part of Eretz Yisrael (regardless of whether it was promised to Avraham Avinu or not[8]). However, just like different parts of Eretz Yisrael have different levels of kedusha, [for example, Yerushalayim is the holiest city[9]] so too does Ever Hayarden have a lower level of kedusha than the rest of Eretz Yisrael.[10] Similarly, according to Rabbi Yossi the Tanna,[11] the fruits of Ever Hayarden are not obligated in bikkurim, for Ever Hayarden is not part of the bracha of being ‘a land flowing with milk and honey’ - but it is still part of Eretz Yisrael; it just has a lower-level kedusha. So what would have been done with the land of Ever Hayarden had Reuven and Gad not requested it? The Netziv[12] writes that it would have been divided up equally amongst the tribes as land for grazing cattle, with the Ramban[13] adding that the reason it would not have been used for human habitation is because HaShem wanted all the tribes to live together, as opposed to having some tribes separated from their brethren by the River Jordan (indeed, this sparked the ‘altar controversy’ in Sefer Yehoshua perek 22).
Knowing that Ever Hayarden is part of Eretz Yisrael, albeit with a lower kedusha level, we can understand the request of the tribes of Reuven and Gad. They were not forsaking Eretz Yisrael chas veshalom, but rather they were asking Moshe for permission to settle in a part which had less kedusha than the rest of Eretz Yisrael so that their livelihood should be preserved bountifully. So if it was a relatively simple request, what was Moshe worried about initially? Herein lies our message this week.
Often, one might have a very good reason (‘hetter’ if you like) for shirking some responsibility or failing to live up to a commitment, etc. The reason is thorough, and one might have even checked it over with someone else to make sure that it makes sense. However, this is only one part of the picture. Even if it is perfectly ok (muttar) for you personally to do something, one has to take into account the effect on others of your actions. Let’s explain ourselves via some examples. In yeshiva, one might have a genuinely valid reason for missing one’s learning session (let’s say that one’s friend has come to visit, for argument’s sake), and perhaps you are entitled to miss a couple of hours’ learning to catch up with your friend.[14] But this reason applies to you; what about the effects that you might have on your chavrusa - maybe he will be more likely to decide to miss learning another time. And what about the effect on others in yeshiva; one’s absence can be felt, and the atmosphere in the beis midrash is not the same when there are people missing as when it is full. Let’s take another example. You are thoroughly exhausted on Shabbos afternoon and really can’t muster up the energy to go to the Rabbi’s shiur. It very well may be that the best thing for you to get a bit of rest and skip the shiur, but what about the wider effects of such an absconding (/‘desertion’); has one taken into account that others will feel it more lax about skipping the shiur next time they are slightly tired if they know that you did so last week. It is insightful that when one yeshiva bachur asked Rav Moshe Feinstein what to do over bein hazmanim, a period during which he would be back in his hometown, Rav Moshe told him to make sure that he attended the (relatively simple) Mishnayos shiur given between Mincha and Ma’ariv. That way, Rav Moshe explained, the value of the shiur will increase in others’ eyes when they see that it is attended by a knowledgeable yeshiva bachur, and the congregants will be more likely to follow suit and go to the shiur. This looking for the wider effects of any given decision is the key to Moshe’s response to the request to settle in Ever Hayarden.
Moshe realised that it was muttar for the two tribes to live in Ever Hayarden, and that it would be good for them and their bovine considerations. However, he had the vision to look further a-field; even if it was muttar, what about the effects on the other tribes - would the other tribes think that Reuven and Gad were trying to avoid fighting for Eretz Yisrael such that it would weaken the resolve of the other tribes? It was only after Reuven and Gad promised to help their brothers conquer the Land first that Moshe was convinced that their request was a valid and viable one.
Indeed, this ability to look at the effects on a wider community before making a personal decision is one of the attributes of HaShem too. In parshas Ha’azinu[15] we call HaShem the perfect Judge. In what way is His judgment perfect? Apart from the fact that He takes into account one’s personal circumstances before exacting judgment, Chazal reveal to us that HaShem takes into account the effect of punishments on the accuser’s family. Thus, even if one is fully deserved of punishment on account of a certain spiritual crime that one has committed, HaShem can withhold punishment on account of the fact that any punishment will have repercussions on this person’s family, and his family do not deserve to suffer.[16]
This shows that HaShem, too, looks at the wider effects to mitigate a decision relating to an individual.
In summary, let’s learn from the episode of the Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven to broaden our vision to encompass the effects that our decisions might have on others, and act accordingly.
Have a great Shabbos,


[1] In the bris bein habesarim; Bereishis 15:18-21. This dispute centres around whether the Emori mentioned there is the lad of Sichon, and whether Refa’im there is the same Refa’im as that possessed by half of the tribe of Menashe in Devarim 3:13. See Rashbam Bava Basra 56a ‘chayav’
[2] Rashi Devarim 3:13
[3] Ramban Bamidbar 21:21
[4] Darash Moshe, parshas Mattos
[5] Brisker Rav, parshas Mattos
[6] Ohr HaChaim Bamidbar 32:3 and Devarim 3:13
[7] Mishna Shevi’is 9:2. But the Rambam in his peirush hamishnayos there disagrees, and it seems that the opinion of the Rambam is that Ever Hayarden is not really part of Eretz Yisrael; see hilchos Terumah 1:1-8. And the Rambam has a (debatable) proof for this opinion from the Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah 22:7. But Bamidbar Rabbah 7:8 seems to imply that Ever Hayarden is part of Eretz Yisrael proper.
[8] For firstly, maybe HaShem gave the Bnei Yisrael more land than He promised to Avraham Avinu. And secondly, as Rav Moshe Feinstein points out, there are halachic ways of conquering surrounding lands and annexing them to Eretz Yisrael, which would then allow these new territories to be considered part of Eretz Yisrael proper (conditions apply).
[9] Bamidbar Rabbah 7:8
[10] Bamidbar Rabbah 7:8
[11] Mishna Bikkurim 1:10. It seems to be a matter of dispute between the Rambam and Ramban as to whether the Tanna Kamma there agrees to Rabbi Yossi on a mide’oraisa level.
[12] Netziv Bamidbar 32:5
[13] Ramban Bamidbar 21:21
[14] Interestingly, see Mishna Brura 531:14 that one of the things it’s muttar to leave Eretz Yisrael to do is to see a friend, for that is a mitzvah (of creating achdus)
[15] Devarim 32:4
[16] Rabbi Yisrael Bernstein


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