Short term benefits or long term rewards? This is the dilemma facing two tribes in Parashat Matot. The tribes of Reuven and Gad requested permission to remain on the other side of the Jordan rather than move to the Land of Israel, stating: “We will build here sheepfolds for our flocks and towns for our children” (Numbers 32:16). Any tribe’s request to live outside the Land of Israel would have been troubling to Moshe. This request was even more distrubing given that Reuven and Gad prioritized their cattle before kids. While Moshe ultimately agreed to this real estate deal, so long as Reuven and Gad would fully participate in conquering the land of Israel, Moshe’s response to the tribes indicated his disappointment in their priorities. Moshe responded with a subtle reversal of their original request: “Build towns for your children and sheepfolds for your flocks…” (Numbers 32:24).
Why were the tribes’ priorities with their cattle? Why would Reuven and Gad want to settle for the quick fix of suitable land and economic prosperity over the long-term benefits of being in the Land of Israel with the rest of Bnai Yisrael? Just as ten of the spies preferred a desert-life instead of trusting that God would protect them in the Land, so too did Reuven and Gad prefer the comforts of the land that they were in, rather than taking up the challenge of relocation. Do we ever settle for comfort over community? Do we stay with the familiar and safe instead of moving onto the difficult and unknown? Sometimes there might be something better out there; we just have to cross a river to find it.
These Torah portions mark the final Parshiyot of Bamidbar. Chazak Chazak V’Nitchazek!