Wednesday, 15 July 2015 | 28 Tammuz, 5775
During the Presidential campaign of 1992, candidate Bill Clinton published a book entitled Putting People First. He had it right; he just wasn’t the first one to write the book. In this Parasha we see Moshe taught his nation that the people, especially children, come first.
The Jews camped on the back of the Jordan River, were about to enter the land of Israel. Representatives of the tribes of Reuven and Gad approached Moshe with a brazen request. “ We don’t want Israel to enter,” they exclaimed. “ The land here is very well suited for our cattle, and it would be quite beneficial if we were to remain here” (Numbers 32:3 –5).
Moshe, recalling the calamity of the ten spies who dissuaded and entire nation from entering Israel reacted in shock. The representative sat quietly through denunciation and then spoke.
“ No Moshe.” they exclaimed, “ it was never our intent just to remain here. We’ll build stables for our livestock and homes for our children. Then we will join our brethren in the fight for Israel. Only after all is conquered will we return home and settle.
Moshe pacified by the quick, obviously well prepared response, reviewed the stipulations.
“All right,” he countered.
“Arm yourselves, fight with your brothers and after the conquest of the land you can return to this land.”
He finally adds the words “ Build cities for your children and pens for your livestock and thus you shall...do
Rashi notes the subtle but significant switch in the order that had been requested: Moshe places the children first, the tribes had placed their possessions first. The preoccupation with consumerism on the part of the Reuvenites and Gadites is evident in the way this episode is introduced by the Torah:
“ Now the children of Reuven and the children of the Gad had a great amount of cattle (Mikneh in the Hebrew text)
And they saw the land ….and it was a [great] place for cattle” (32:1)
As Leibowitz points out in the Hebrew order of the verse, it begins and ends with the word “Mikneh” or cattle. This verse sums up the focus of these tribes—their starting point and their destination was on possessions not people.
In an “affluenza—ridden” society such as ours, the Parasha’s point is timely. At the end of the day it’s what you’ve got that makes you a mentsch, it’s who you are. It’s not your portfolio that makes you powerful but the way you treat people.
When it comes to organising priorities at home, shule or school we’ve got to be mindful of Moshe’s advice. Put your children first, put people first. Instead of loving things and using people let’s ensure we’re loving people and using our possessions!