Messianic Education Trust
    Mattot/Masa'ei  
(Num 30:2(1) - 36:13)

B'Midbar/Numbers 32:6   Shall your brothers come into the battle and you settle here?


This is the start of Moshe's response to the tribes of Reuben and Gad after they have asked for the land east of the Jordan - good land for livestock, of which they have a lot - be given to them as their inheritance, rather than land west of the Jordan. The at the beginning of the first word is an interrogative hay, even though they are most often pointed with a composite patakh. Hebrew grammars confirm that an interrogative hay, also called the interrogative particle, before a gutteral (aleph, hay, khet, ayin) not itself pointed with any form of qametz is pointed with a full patakh (Gesenius §100m1, van der Merwe §43.2 1(i)b2). Moshe's words, then, start with a question. What was he asking and why?

Ovadiah Who Is ...

Sforno: Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno (1470-1550 CE), Italian rabbi, philosopher and physician; born in Cesena, he went to Rome to study medicine; left in 1525 and after some years of travel, settled in Bologna where he founded a yeshiva which he conducted until his death
Sforno splits the question into two parts: "'Shall your brothers go to war?' Do you actually think that your brothers will be willing to go to war, so as to conquer the Land? 'And you shall sit here' ... in the land that has already been conquered! There is no doubt that you cannot presume this will be accepted; this can only serve to turn away the hearts of your brothers." Moshe is assuming, the Sforno suggests and as the following verses in the parasha confirm - that the request to stay on the east of the Jordan is just a spoiling tactic: a device to split the people and discourage Israel from crossing the Jordan, as the spies had attempted a generation ago.

Jacob Milgrom points to a possible underlying attitude: "Moshe upbraids Gad and Reuben for their selfish disregard of Israel's unity; this is similar to the accusation against the Transjordanian tribes in the time of Joshua and Deborah." In the time of Joshua, immediately after the Land has been conquered, the tribes of Gad, Reuben and the half tribe of Manasseh returned to their holdings east of the Jordan and built a large replica altar there in Gilead as a witness that they remained part of Israel. The other tribes misunderstood their actions and challenged them: "If it is because the land of your holding is unclean, cross over into the land of the L-RD's own holding, where the Tabernacle of the L-RD abides, and acquire holdings among us. But do not rebel against the L-RD, and do not rebel against us by building for yourselves an altar other than the altar of the L-RD our G-d" (Joshua 22:19, JPS). Deborah and Barak, after Sisera and Yavin the king of Canaan were defeated by the men of Naftali and Zebulun, pointedly observed that most of the tribes - including Gad and Reuben - did not participate in fighting Israel's oppressor: "Why then did you stay among the sheepfolds and listen as they pipe for the flocks? Among the clans of Reuben were great searchings of heart! Gilead tarried beyond the Jordan; and Dan -- why did he linger by the ships? Asher remained at the seacoast and tarried at his landings" (Judges 5:16-17, JPS). Perhaps the tribes that settled east of the Jordan were isolationist and didn't want to get involved in the affairs of their brothers on the west.

The ancient rabbinic tradition also agrees with Moshe, but on a different basis: that of economics. Pointing to the first verse of the chapter - "The Reubenites and the Gadites owned cattle in very great numbers" (B'Midbar 32:1, JPS) - the rabbis explain that three things (wisdom, strength and wealth) were created in the world. If a man rightly possesses any one of them, they say, he has everything, but this only applies if they are the gift of heaven. If they come from human endeavour, then they are nothing. The rabbis quote the prophet Jeremiah: "Thus said the L-RD: Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom; let not the strong man glory in his strength; let not the rich man glory in his riches. But only in this should one glory: in his earnest devotion to Me" (Jeremiah 9:22-23, JPS). "In the case of the children of Gad and the children of Reuben, you find that they were rich, possessing large numbers of cattle, but they loved their money and settled outside the Land of Israel. Consequently they were the first of all the tribes to go into exile; as is borne out by the text, 'The G-d of Israel roused the spirit of King Pul of Assyria -- the spirit of King Tillegath-Pilneser of Assyria -- and he carried them away, namely, the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, and brought them to Halah, Habor, Hara, and the river Gozan, to this day' (1 Chronicles 5:26, JPS). What brought it on them? The fact that they separated themselves from their brethren because of their possessions" (B'Midbar Rabbah 22:7).

Who Is ...

Nechama Leibowitz: (1905-1997 CE), born in Riga, graduate of the University of Berlin, made aliyah in 1931; professor at Tel Aviv University; taught Torah for over 50 years
Nechama Leibowitz, writing from inside the modern state of Israel, comments that, "Moshe poured forth a torrent of rebuke and reproof on them making comparisons with the backslidings of their parents, recalling past history from which they had evidently learned nothing. Full of foreboding for the future and concern for the Divine mission they had been charged with, he demanded, above all, an equal sharing of responsibility with their brethren." Rabbi Jonathan Sacks sees the same problem in the drawing apart of what he calls the Edah Haredit, the ultra-orthodox, from engagement with the state of Israel and fellow Jews around the world: "I have to tell you this is worse than dangerous. It is an abdication of the role of Jews and Judaism in the world. We are here to engage with the world, to be true to our faith and a blessing to others regardless of their faith." Speaking at a dinner to celebrate his tenure as Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth3, Lord Sacks continued, "I want to inspire young Jews throughout the world to believe in and live a Judaism that is tolerant, inclusive, embracing, non-judgmental; that is intellectually open and ethically uplifting; that is neither defensive nor arrogant, but that lives the life of faith in such a way as to enhance the life of others within and beyond the Jewish community."

Yeshua challenged his disciples to do the same: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another" (John 13:34, ESV). In one sense, not a new commandment, as the prophets also spoke: "These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace; do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath, for all these things I hate, declares the L-RD" (Zechariah 8:16-17, ESV), but the degree and example are on a different scale. As Yeshua loved His disciples - not just walking with them and teaching them for three years, but giving up His life so that they might live - they were to love each other: being prepared to die for each other; to give up homes, families and all their possessions for each other; to suffer persecution, mockery or shame for each other. This is radical discipleship and love. But why? Yeshua explained, "By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35, ESV); it was that degree of intense and committed love that showed their world that they were followers of Yeshua, because they did what He did. Yeshua doesn't leave any holes in His command when He repeated it a little later: "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends" (15:12-13, ESV). Yeshua's disciples are to go the whole way, just as far as Yeshua Himself did, if necessary.

The rest of the New Covenant writings make it plain that Yeshua's commands apply not just to the original twelve disciples, but to all believers in all times. Rav Sha'ul says it many times: "Love one another with brotherly affection" (Romans 12:10, ESV), "through love serve one another" (Galatians 5:13, ESV), "you yourselves have been taught by G-d to love one another" (1 Thessalonians 4:9, ESV). He is supported by the other apostolic writers: "love one another earnestly from a pure heart" (1 Peter 1:22, ESV) and "let us love one another, for love is from G-d, and whoever loves has been born of G-d and knows G-d" (1 John 4:7, ESV). Sha'ul even reports how the witness of love has already impacted other churches: "the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of G-d" (2 Thessalonians 1:3-4, ESV). The degree of friction and tension in many churches and congregations today shows that this is a big issue for modern believers too. If we are to be faithful disciples and effective witnesses, we have to get to grips with this. It is not an optional extra that we can choose to do if we feel called; we must beseech the Ruach to make it real in our hearts each and every day of our lives.

1. - Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar, Edited E. Kautzsch, Translated A. E. Cowley, Oxford University Press, 1910, 0-19-815406-2, page 296

2. - Christo H. J. van der Merwe, Jackie A. Naudé and Jan H. Kroeze, A Biblical Hebrew Reference Grammar, T & T Clark / Sheffield Academic Press, 2006, 1-85075-856-5, page 321

3. - On Monday 24th June, 2013

Further Study: Zechariah 7:9-14; Ephesians 4:1-6

Application: Do you find it easy to love your brothers and sisters in the L-rd? It's often a tough call, but when Yeshua gave us the command, He also gave us the wherewithal to carry it out. Ask Him how He did it and for His help to do it to someone today.

04Jul13 14:22 Rosalind Daily: I think you hit the mark in more ways than one. Love is the supreme commandment. And putting anything, even temporarily, before our obligation to love is a dangerous thing, almost always more costly in the end than any prior benefit received.

© Jonathan Allen, 2013



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