וּמִקְנֶה רַב. זֶה שֶׁאָמַר הַכָּתוּב: לֵב חָכָם לִימִינוֹ וְגוֹ' (קהלת י, ב). לֵב חָכָם לִימִינוֹ, זֶה מֹשֶׁה. וְלֵב כְּסִיל לִשְׂמֹאלוֹ, אֵלּוּ בְּנֵי רְאוּבֵן וּבְנֵי גָד, שֶׁעָשׂוּ אֶת הָעִקָּר טָפֵל, וְהַטָּפֵל עִקָּר. לָמָּה, שֶׁחִבְּבוּ נִכְסֵיהֶם יוֹתֵר מִגּוּפָן, שֶׁאָמְרוּ לְמֹשֶׁה, גִּדְרוֹת צֹאן נִבְנֶה לְמִקְנֵינוּ פֹּה, פֹּה תְּחִלָּה, וְאַחַר כָּךְ, וְעָרִים לְטַפֵּנוּ. אָמַר לָהֶם מֹשֶׁה, לֹא תַּעֲשׂוּ כָּךְ. עֲשׂוּ אֶת הָעִקָּר תְּחִלָּה. בְּנוּ עָרִים לְטַפְּכֶם. וְאַחַר כָּךְ גְּדֵרוֹת לְצֹאנְכֶם. הֱוֵי, לֵב חָכָם לִימִינוֹ, זֶה מֹשֶׁה. וְלֵב כְּסִיל לִשְׂמֹאלוֹ, אֵלּוּ בְּנֵי רְאוּבֵן וּבְנֵי גָּד. אָמַר לָהֶם הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, אַתֶּם חִבַּבְתֶּם מָמוֹנְכֶם יוֹתֵר מִנַּפְשׁוֹתֵיכֶם. חַיֵּיכֶם, אֵין בּוֹ בְּרָכָה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: נַחֲלָה מְבֹהֶלֶת בָּרִאשׁוֹנָה וְאַחֲרִיתָהּ לֹא תְּבֹרַךְ (משלי כ, כא). אֶל תִּיגַע לְהַעֲשִׁיר, מִבִּינָתְךָ חֲדָל (משלי כג, ד). וְאֵיזוֹ עָשִׁיר. הַשָּׂמֵחַ בְּחֶלְקוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: יְגִיעַ כַּפֶּיךָ כִּי תֹּאכֵל, אַשְׁרֶיךָ וְטוֹב לָךְ (תהלים קכח, ב).
And abundant cattle… This is as the verse says “The heart of the wise inclines to his right…” (Ecclesiastes 10:2) “The heart of the wise” is Moshe. “And the mind of the fool to his left,” these are the children of Reuven and Gad who made the priority the subsidiary and the subsidiary a priority. Why? They loved their property more than themselves, for they told Moshe, “We will build pens for our flocks here.” First these, only then did they add “Cities for our children.”
Moshe told them Not to do such. Rather do the priority first. “Build cities for your children", and only after “pens for your flocks.” Thus, the wise is Moshe, and the fool is Reuven and Gad. Said the Holy One to them, “You love your money more than yourselves? By your lives, there will be no blessing from this.” As it says, “A jumbled inheritance at the start, and its end is without blessing” (Proverbs 20:21) “Do not tire yourself for wealth; it will stop up your wisdom.” (Proverbs 23:4) And who is rich? The one who is happy with his lot, as it says “Through the toil of your hands you eat. Happy and prosperous you shall be.” (Psalms 128:2)
Reuven and Gad come to Moshe with a request. They have a lot of cattle, and the land on the far bank of the Jordan is rich grazing ground. Let them claim their portion now, and they can settle their flocks there and houses for their families, and then they will join up with the other tribes and help conquer the Land of Israel. But Moshe notices something interesting about their request. They seem more interested in the cows than their families, giving priority to the pens over the houses. Says Moshe, “You guys are fools. You are elevating your possessions over your family. Build the houses first, and only then take care of the flocks.”
Now obviously, Reuven and Gad did not actually place their flocks above their children. If you asked someone from Reuven or Gad point blank what is most important to them, they would probably say their spouse or children, not their sheep and cattle. But they saw the land was great for flocks, and so they made the rash decision to grab it without thinking it through. Since the flocks were the deciding factor in where to live, it meant that in actuality they were the first priority. Moshe tells them, that if how you operate, if you make major life choices based on what is best for your money and not for you and your family, then you really do value them more, whether you think about it or not.
Why isn’t the land good for the children? First, it is outside of Israel, far from the Tabernacle and the centers of learning. It will be much harder to raise Israelite children on the outskirts of society. Then too, by choosing land on the edge, they made themselves more vulnerable both to marauders and foreign kingdoms. The land they chose often ended up under the thumb of Ammon, Moab, and Aram, and they were the first to be exiled by Assyria. Consider also, the way the land was claimed. Reuven and Gad left their children behind on the East Bank of the Jordan while they crossed over and helped the rest of Israel fight its battles. It took a full fourteen years before they returned home, and their children now adults hardly recognized them. Indeed, they had abandoned them for profit.
In the Haftara, we find that Gd asks the harsh question “What fault did your fathers find in me that caused them to abandon me and go after the profane and to become profane themselves?” Now, it’s not actually the case that Israel ever did any kind of analysis to decide that Gd was in the wrong, and they no longer wished to be His people. They just went after their own desires and never thought about Gd at all. As Gd follows up, the real problem is that they never made any such considerations about Him. “They never asked where is Gd, who brought us through the land of Egypt.” They never considered what wonders he had done for them. They never asked where they stand with Him now. They just let the relationship die without a thought. They weren’t consciously abandoning Him at all, but the effect is the same.
At the end of the Parasha, we find something interesting. Part of Menashe had joined Reuven and Gad in settlement of the East Bank of the Jordan. When the daughters of Tzelophehad had won the right to plots in the land of Israel, the Elders of Menashe realized they had a problem. If Tzelophehad’s daughters marry people from other tribes, their children will be from their husbands’ tribes but inherit land that should belong to Menashe.
Who were these elders of Menashe bringing the complaint? It’s hard to say for certain, but as Rav Hertz points out in his chumash, the simplest read is that most or all of these Elders were the same ones who chose to take land on the other side of the Jordan, outside Israel. Originally, they were content to settle in the rich Gilead, but after seeing the love their cousins had for the land and how they fought for the right to possess it, now they worried their tribe would miss out. It wasn’t too to ensure the tribe wouldn’t miss out, but of course it was too late for them. They had already taken their share.
Sometimes, we consciously choose how to prioritize our life and make choices on what we feel is important. But sometimes we impulsively make decisions based on the short term. Our Parsha is telling us that these impulsive decisions also reflect on our priorities and beliefs. When we make such a decision, we want to make sure we are reflecting the priorities we truly wish to hold.
As we enter into the month of Av, let us reflect on choices we make every day. What do they say about our relationships with Gd and our fellow man? What do we reveal about our values? Can we say that our actions reflect things we are proud of?