If You Leave, Don’t Leave Now: Matot-Masei 2021

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Have you ever dealt with a fear of abandonment? If so, did it stem from a time you actually were abandoned by someone close to you, or were you simply anxious about the possibility?

When Moses is confronted by representatives of two and a half tribes who wish to settle east of the Jordan River, he fears they will abandon the Israelites when they’re needed most:

The Pitch: “Moses replied to the Gadites and the Reubenites, ‘Are your brothers to go to war while you stay here?’” – Numbers 32:6

Swing #1: “At least according to his canonical account, the fighting in the region east of the Jordan (against the Amorites, the Moabites, and the Midianites) has already been successfully concluded, whereas the conquest of Canaan proper remains to be undertaken.” – Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary

Swing #2: “Moses is really attacking the tribes on (at least) two fronts. On the most basic level, he is incensed that they suggest ‘sitting’ in Transjordan in the short term, leaving it to their brothers to risk their lives in battle. But at another, arguably deeper level, he is offended by their desire to ‘dwell’ in Transjordan over the long term.” – Shai Held, The Heart of Torah, Volume 2: Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion: Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy

Swing #3: “Note that although Gad was junior to Reuben, he was the first to make the request to stay in Trans-Jordan. Having been chastened by [first by] Moses, this tribe did more than it had been asked to do so as to compensate for its unbecoming conduct. This teaches that when repenting one should do so as wholeheartedly as the members of Gad and Reuven.” – Shenei Luchot HaBerit

Late-Inning Questions: Do you blame Moses for being suspicious of Gad and Reuven’s plan? After all Moses had gone through in the wilderness, should he have rejected their plan outright? When can we allow ourselves to trust someone who let us down before?

On-Deck at TBT: I’m excited for tomorrow’s learners’ service, which focuses on specific aspects of the Shabbat morning service. Please either join me in my office in-person this Saturday, July 10th, at 9:30 a.m., or join on Zoom through this link.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of a fear of abandonment, it’s remarkable how much money certain cities will give their professional teams lest they move to a different location. Unfortunately, in coming years, the owners of the Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays might likely demand a king’s ransom to stay in their respective locations. We’ve seen this all before.

Shabbat Shalom!