Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VIII, p. 186ff.

I. This week’s Torah reading relates that the tribes of Reuven and Gad had many herds. Therefore they spoke to Moshe, saying:1 “The land which G‑d has smitten before the congregation of Israel is a land fit for herds, and your servants possess herds.” Therefore they asked Moshe:2 “Give this land to your servants as an inheritance. Do not have us cross the Jordan.”

Moshe answered them:3 “Will your brothers go out to war while you dwell here?! Why discourage the hearts of the children of Israel from crossing into the land?”, concluding with the words of censure: “This is what your ancestors did...,” as will be explained.

The question arises: How could these tribes even suppose that the land for which the entire Jewish people fought would be given to them as an inheritance? [Why] should they — the tribes of Gad and Reuven — dwell on that land, while the remainder of the Jewish people go out and wage war in Eretz Yisrael?4

It appears from the Ramban’s words that the tribes of Gad and Reuven were willing to cross the Jordan at the outset. According to a simple interpretation of the passage, however, their statement: “Do not have us cross the Jordan,” (not “do not grant us an inheritance”) [indicates that they did not desire to enter the land of Canaan at all]. Moreover, it is difficult to say that Moshe misunderstood their intent. Therefore (according to the simple meaning of the verse) the interpretations of the Alshich and the Or HaChayim appear most appropriate.

The saintly Or HaChayim5 resolves this difficulty, explaining that [the tribes of Gad and Reuven] clarified this issue by [the way they described the land]: “the land which G‑d has smitten before the congregation of Israel.” Since G‑d would wage war on behalf of the Jewish people, their help would not be necessary in conquering the lands on the other side of the Jordan.

[In this light,] Moshe’s answer to them: “Will your brothers go out to war while you dwell here?!” can be interpreted to mean: Yes, it is G‑d who wages the war, but [the Jews] must at least [make the effort of] going out to war. Therefore it is inappropriate for you to settle here while your brothers go out to war.

Moshe also added another point: “Why discourage the hearts of the children of Israel from crossing into the land?” By staying in Transjordan, the tribes of Gad and Reuven would have a demoralizing effect on the Jewish people and discourage them from entering Eretz Yisrael. The people at large would interpret the decision of the tribes of Gad and Reuven to remain on the eastern side of the Jordan as stemming from fear. (And they would explain that the statement: “The land which G‑d has smitten before the congregation of Israel” is merely a facade to camouflage these feelings.) This would weaken the resolve of the people as a whole.

Moshe then continued, rebuking them: “This is what your ancestors did.” He was referring to the spies who had discouraged the Jewish people from entering Eretz Yisrael. And Moshe concluded:6 “Behold! You have arisen in the place of your ancestors.”

This interpretation raises several questions, among them:

a) By saying: “which G‑d has smitten before the congregation of Israel,” the tribes of Gad and Reuven desired to clarify not only that the Jewish people could conquer Eretz Yisrael, but that they would not even have any difficulty in this endeavor. Seemingly, this is the direct opposite of the argument of the spies who stated:7 “We cannot ascend.” Why then should Moshe compare them to the spies, saying:6 “Behold! You have arisen in the place of your ancestors, a society of sinful people,” because of the mere possibility that their decision to remain on the eastern side of the Jordan came as a result of fear.8

This explanation, however, requires explanation: The words [of the tribes of Gad and Reuven] did “not contain any perverseness or obstinacy.” Moshe merely suspected that “you might conclude in an undesirable manner.” Why then did he condemn them with definity, employing strict words of censure: “You have arisen in the place of your ancestors, a society of sinful people”?

b) The tribes of Gad and Reuven approached Moshe with a request: “If we have found favor in your eyes, do not have us cross the Jordan.” It is obvious that if Moshe would have denied their request, they would have been ready to enter Eretz Yisrael, and thus they would not “discourage the hearts of the children of Israel.” When Moshe did not accept their request, why did he have to rebuke them in such a lengthy manner, saying: “You have arisen in the place of your ancestors.” Why such a [serious] rebuke?

c) After the tribes of Gad and Reuven volunteered to “proceed as a vanguard,” Moshe immediately accepted their request without any further rebuke. This implies that their settling on the eastern bank of Jordan was in accordance with the Divine intent. We find, however, that our Sages9 describe their decision to settle there with the verse:10

b) Even after explaining the advantage of “grazing land,” Likkutei Torah states: “Eretz Yisrael is unique. They, however, chose to settle permanently in the grazing land.” “An inheritance seized hastily at the outset, whose end was not blessed.” And they explain that [because the tribes of Gad and Reuven “seized their inheritance hastily,”] they were exiled before the other Jewish people.

II. On the surface, it is possible to explain that Moshe’s complaint was (not [directed] only against [these tribe’s apparent] unwillingness to go to war, but also) against their choice of another land instead of Eretz Yisrael,11

See also Keilim 1:6; Bamidbar Rabbah 7:8, 22:7; Or HaTorah, Mattos, p. 1340; and Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VII, p. 279, Vol. XIII, p. 124-125, note 20, [which explain the status of Transjordan]. and their praise of that land, stating that it possessed an advantage over Eretz Yisrael in being “a land fit for herds.”12

This is reflected in Moshe’s words “Why will you discourage...? This is what your ancestors did.” The spies convinced (themselves and) the Jews not to enter Eretz Yisrael (not only by saying: “We cannot ascend,” but also) by speaking unfavorably about Eretz Yisrael, saying: “This is its fruit.”13 (This was said even before they said:14 “But the nation that dwells in the land is powerful.”) Similarly, by saying that this land [Transjordan] is better than Eretz Yisrael, the tribes of Gad and Reuven15 would prevent (themselves) and the other Jews from entering16

b) “This is what your ancestors did” — speaking unfavorably about the land itself, as explained. “the land which G‑d gave them.”17

{On this basis, we can appreciate why, when saying “This is what your ancestors did,” Moshe said: “They went up from the wadi of Eshkol.”18 [Here, Moshe was making an allusion, for eshkol means “a cluster,” referring] to “the cluster of grapes which the children of Israel cut from there.”19 The spies [showed the Jewish people this cluster when they] said: “This is its fruit.”}

This also enables us to appreciate why even after the tribes of Gad and Reuven promised to proceed as “a vanguard before the Jewish people”20 and Moshe agreed,21 [settling in Transjordan] was considered an undesirable act (as mentioned in section I). Moshe’s agreement to their stipulation related only to the effect their decision would have on other Jews. [By proceeding as a vanguard, they would not discourage them.] For the tribes of Gad and Reuven themselves, [however,] settling in a land which is “outside of Eretz Yisrael” is considered undesirable.22

This explanation, however, raises another question: Moshe was concerned, not only with our people as a whole, but with every member of our people. Certainly, he was concerned with two and a half tribes. Why then did Moshe agree to a plan which — although it forewarned the possibility of problems arising with regard to the other tribes — appears to show a lack of concern for the fact that the tribes of Gad and Reuven would not receive an inheritance in Eretz Yisrael?23

III. [The above difficulty can be resolved on the basis of] the explanations in Chassidus24 why the tribes of Reuven and Gad desired to remain in Transjordan and occupy themselves with pasturing flocks. Working as a shepherd does not involve that many disturbances25 [or intense involvement with worldly matters]. While pursuing that occupation, it is still possible to remain connected to G‑d.

For this reason,26 the Patriarchs and Yaakov’s sons
(— with the exception of Yosef —) chose to work as shepherds, so they would not be distracted by worldly matters and [would] remain a “chariot,” [i.e., a medium for the expression] of G‑dliness.

On this basis, we can appreciate [how] the comparison between the tribes of Gad and Reuven and the spies [reflects] the inner dimension [of their conduct]. The spies desired to remain in the desert [for a spiritual motive]:27 They knew that when they entered Eretz Yisrael, the manna would cease to descend and they would have to survive on ordinary bread. This would require the performance of many different labors: plowing, sowing, and the like. Therefore, [the spies] desired to remain in the desert, sequestered from the world. [In the desert,] even their physical eating (and drinking) was “bread from heaven” (and water from Miriam’s well).

The Patriarchs and Yaakov’s sons conducted themselves in a [similar] manner. Nevertheless, for the spies, this was considered as a sin. Such conduct was acceptable before the giving of the Torah. [The giving of the Torah, however, changed the spiritual focus of the world.] The Torah was given to make the physical world a medium for G‑dliness.28 Hence, from that time onward, [our Divine service] must involve [working] with material entities, transforming [the world into] a dwelling for G‑d.

The above, however, reinforces the question asked previously (at the conclusion of section II): Why did Moshe agree to allow the tribes of Gad and Reuven to remain in Transjordan and not enter Eretz Yisrael?

IV. These questions can be resolved as follows: Even after the giving of the Torah, the Jewish people are divided into two groups: scholars and businessmen,29 Yissachar and Zevulun, masters of Torah and masters of good deeds.30

On the surface, since the intent of the giving of the Torah is, as explained above, making the world a medium for G‑dliness, seemingly, the entire Jewish people should be involved in worldly affairs, [so that they will bring G‑dliness to this sphere of activity].

The resolution of the matter [depends on the conception that] {G‑d’s dwelling is not only a dwelling for His essence, but also that His essence will be revealed there.31} Therefore for this intent to be consummated, [two types of Divine service] are necessary: a) the performance of mitzvos with material entities which draws down G‑d’s essence, and also,

b) the study of the Torah which enables the essential influence (drawn down through the observance of mitzvos) to be revealed.

For this reason, there must be “masters of Torah” [among the Jewish people]. For the study of the Torah endows the observance of the mitzvos performed by “the masters of good deeds” with light.32 This enables the essential influence drawn down by these good deeds to be revealed.

Nevertheless, the essential influence is drawn down (primarily) by (the masters of) good deeds, and (the Divine service of the masters of) Torah is (primarily) to illuminate and reveal the achievement accomplished through the performance of the mitzvos.33

Nevertheless, since His essence is drawn down through the performance of mitzvos, the deed [— and not the intent — of the mitzvos] is of primary importance. Therefore, it has been established that there be few “masters of Torah,” with the majority of the Jews involved in worldly tasks.34

V. This is one of the differences between the tribes of Gad and Reuven, and the spies. The spies desired that the entire Jewish people remain outside of Eretz Yisrael. This is certainly the opposite of G‑d’s intent. The tribes of Gad and Reuven, by contrast, desired that (only) they remain in Transjordan [and be occupied as shepherds]. This is not the opposite of the Divine intent. On the contrary, a small proportion of the Jewish people must follow this thrust of Divine service.

This said, Moshe still rebuked [the tribes of Gad and Reuven], telling them: “This is what your ancestors did.” For the mission of the masters of the Torah is to illuminate and increase the vitality of the Divine service of the masters of good deeds.

As has been mentioned on other occasions,35 one of the interpretations of [the new development brought about by the giving of the Torah:] “the upper realms will descend to the lower realms,”36 is that the Torah scholars should extend themselves to establish contact with working people and influence them.37

Therefore, their request, “Do not have us cross the Jordan,” i.e., that they be separated from Eretz Yisrael, was the opposite of G‑d’s intent. Nevertheless, after Moshe’s rebuke called forth their mesirus nefesh for the (conquest of Eretz Yisrael, which was intended to lead to the) Divine service of Eretz Yisrael,38

The potential for the “heads of the tribes” to release vows came through Moshe speaking to them (Likkutei Torah, Bamidbar 85b; the end of the maamar entitled Vayidaber Moshe, 5672). Similarly, it was Moshe’s [rebuke] which empowered the tribes of Gad and Reuven to attain (mesirus nefesh for) the Divine service of Eretz Yisrael. as they said: “We will proceed as the vanguard before the Jewish people,” Moshe agreed to allow them to take their portion in Transjordan.

Their willingness to advance as the vanguard demonstrated that their desire to remain in Transjordan (came not because they desired to remain apart from worldly affairs,39 but) rather because within the intent of the Divine service of creating a dwelling for G‑d, [there are two thrusts,] and they chose the service of “masters of Torah.”

VI. Nevertheless, despite the above explanation, [their choice of Transjordan] represented — on a refined level — a deviation from [G‑d’s] ultimate inner intent.40

Rabbi Akiva, by contrast, although he studied 24 years while separated from his wife — did this with her permission. Indeed, she sent him. And ultimately, he returned to her (Kesubos 62b). Similarly, when he entered the Pardes, he “entered in peace and departed in peace” (Chagigah, loc. cit.). [His ratzu reflected the balanced thrust of the realm of Tikkun.] Therefore, their choice is described as “An inheritance seized hastily at the outset”; it followed the approach of Tohu, the opposite of the settled approach that characterizes [the realm of] Tikkun.

For the essence and the inner dimension of G‑d’s intent is drawing down lights into vessels, making a dwelling for Him in the lower realms.

(Adapted from the maamar entitled U’Mikneh Rav, 5720
and Sichos Shabbos Parshas Mattos-Maasei, 5719)