Dear Friends,

After a long and perilous journey, the Israelites are on the verge of entering the Promised Land. It is at that time that the leaders of the tribes of Reuben and Gad approached Moses with a request. They asked if they could remain in the fertile plain outside of Israel, as that land provided ideal pasture for their flocks of sheep and herds of cattle.After a long and perilous journey, the Israelites are on the verge of entering the Promised Land. It is at that time that the leaders of the tribes of Reuben and Gad approached Moses with a request. They asked if they could remain in the fertile plain outside of Israel, as that land provided ideal pasture for their flocks of sheep and herds of cattle.
                 
Moses listens to their request and then questions their motives. Is it through fear that they make this request, not knowing what fate awaits them as the Israelites do battle with the inhabitants of Israel?  Or is it selfishness and greed that causes them to want to remain behind, and in so doing, cut themselves off from the other tribes? 
                
Moses is angry and discouraged over their request, but extracts a promise that first they will go into battle with the other tribes. Only after they have done this, and have proved themselves before God and their fellow Israelites, would they be allowed to come back and settle the land they desire. And eventually that is what happens, as they fight with the other tribes at Jericho, and then return to their “cattle country.” 
                
We note the way in which these two tribes made their request: “We will build sheepfolds here for our cattle, and towns for our children.” Given this wording, our sages tell us that these two tribes had their priorities wrong. That their concern should have been, first to build towns for their children, and afterward, sheepfolds for their flocks. A warning from our sages that we not place too much emphasis upon our material possessions and lose sight of higher visions and purposes.
                
Yes, living in a materialistic society like ours, it is hard for us and our children not to focus upon the material values with which we are bombarded.  All around us the message:  own the “right” things and wear the right things and you will be seen as a success. And more than that: all too often our self-esteem is tied more to what we have than to what we are.
                
Material possessions are a blessing and we are fortunate if we have attained that kind of success.  But our tradition calls to us to never lose sight of our priorities and to realize that the most important things in life cannot be purchased with any amount of money. Yes, to be blessed with material well-being is to be blessed with opportunities to do good and to pursue higher goals and virtues: to uplift the fallen, to give strength to the weak, and to support institutions like our temple that seeks to promote values of generosity and reaching beyond ourselves. Yes, material wealth can make our lives more comfortable. But it can enable us to make our lives more purposeful and significant. The message here: let us strive to assure that our possessions do not come to possess us! 

Shabbat shalom,   

         Rabbi David Greenberg