“Attention, campers and counselors!” the head counselor’s voice boomed over the loudspeaker. “It’s learning time. Please go to your learning groups now.”

Mindy’s group sat in the shade of a large oak tree and listened as Simi, their counselor, began. “The tribes of Reuven and Gad approached Moshe with a request. What did they ask for?”

“I know,” answered Mindy. “They asked Moshe for permission to settle in the area on the east side of the Jordan river.”

“Very good, Mindy. Why did they choose that area?”

“Wait a minute, Simi,” Esther called out. “What do you mean by choosing? Wasn’t the land divided by a lottery?”

“It was, but years before the lottery was held, the tribes of Reuven and Gad said they would rather settle on the eastern side of the river, which was covered with luscious green pastures.”

“Oh! I remember,” said Chavi. “They were shepherds, and they wanted to have plenty of pasture to raise their sheep.”

“That’s right. But Moshe was not pleased with their request.”

“Why?” asked Dinah. “What’s wrong with raising sheep?”

“There’s nothing wrong with raising sheep,” replied Simi. “As a matter of fact, some of our most famous ancestors were shepherds.”

“Like Avraham,” called out Mindy. “And Yitzchak and Yaakov and even Moshe Rabbeinu himself!”

“Many of our people chose to be shepherds, because it’s peaceful and it doesn’t take so much time and effort,” explained Simi. “That way they would be able to devote their time and energy to serving HaShem, davening, and studying.”

“That sounds just like learning in camp under a shady oak tree,” said Esther, smiling dreamily. “So why didn’t Moshe agree?”

“Think, girls,” challenged Simi. “When the tribes of Reuven and Dan made this request, Moshe compared them to the miraglim.”

“Oh, I get it,” said Chavi. “In school, we learned that the miraglim didn’t want to go into Eretz Yisrael, because they thought that the life in the desert, where HaShem took care of their food, clothes, and homes, was more suited for people who wanted to serve HaShem. They could devote most of their time and energy to davening and learning. The tribes of Reuven and Gad seemed to have the same idea.”

“Excellent, Chavi,” Simi complimented her. “But there is a difference. Those two tribes promised Moshe that they would enter Eretz Yisrael with all the rest of the people. They were prepared to leave their wives, children and possessions on the eastern side of the river, while they marched at the head of the people to conquer Eretz Yisrael and to help the others settle the land. They would not return to their own territory until everyone was settled.

“To this, Moshe readily agreed. HaShem wants the Jewish people to live in Eretz Yisrael and make the Torah and its mitzvos part of their everyday life. The people should farm, work, and build up the land, serving HaShem with many different types of activities. Though much time is spent dealing with ordinary matters, doing this the Torah way makes the world a dirah bitachtonim, a home for HaShem.

“Still, our nation needs people who can devote most of their time to peaceful study and prayer. But these people should also be part of settling Eretz Yisrael like the tribes of Reuven and Gad. When they help the others who spend most of their time working in the land, they themselves can serve HaShem with the peaceful ease of a shepherd’s life.”

(Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VIII, Parshas Mattos)