Parashat Matot: Sincerely for the Sake of G-d
Parashat Matot tells about the request made by the tribes of Reuben and Gad to permanently reside in Eber Ha’Yarden, the region east of the Jordan River which Beneh Yisrael had conquered, rather than reside in the Land of Israel itself. Moshe initially was angered by the request, but then these tribes clarified that the men intended to join the other tribes in waging war against the people in the Land of Israel. Only after the land was captured would they return to their families across the Jordan River.
In presenting this plan to Moshe, the men of Reuben and Gad said, "For we will not settle with them [the other tribes]…because our portion has already come to us, across the Jordan to the east" (32:19).
Already the Ramban noted the brazenness and disrespect seemingly expressed by this remark. Reuben and Gad speak here in very definitive terms – stating as fact that they had already received their portion east of the Jordan River, as though they did not need Moshe’s permission. Why did they tell Moshe that they had already received their share east of the Jordan, before he gave his consent?
The answer relates to the verb "H.L.TZ." which appears numerous times throughout this section. The people of Reuben and Gad promised, "Nehaletz Hushim" (32:17) – that they would take up arms and participate in the battle. We find this word also earlier in the Parasha, in reference to the recruitment of soldiers for the battle against Midyan, when Moshe instructed, "Hehalesu Me’itechem Anashim La’sava" – that soldiers should be drafted and armed for the war. The Gemara in Masechet Yebamot (102b) notes that normally, this verb means to "remove," as in "Halisa" – the ceremony whereby a childless widow removes a shoe from her brother-in-law if he does not marry her in fulfillment of the Misva of "Yibum." In the context of warfare, the Gemara explains, this verb means that a soldier "removes" himself from his home in order to fight.
The deeper meaning of the Gemara’s comment is that when a Jew goes out to fight a war, he must "remove" himself from all personal interests. As the Rambam writes in Hilchot Melachim (7:15), a solder waging a war must have no other objective than "Le’kadesh Et Hashem" – to bring honor to G-d. He should not think of his home, his family, his property, or anything else, as he must focus exclusively on the ultimate purpose of the war, which is to bring glory to Hashem. Thus, when Moshe instructed, "Hehalesu Me’itechem Anashim," he was saying that the soldiers must "remove" themselves from all personal concerns, and commit themselves completely, 100 percent, to the goal of bringing glory to Hashem, without any vested interests.
The men of Reuben and Gad, too, were telling Moshe, "Nehaletz Hushim" – that they were prepared to commit themselves entirely to the lofty goal of capturing the Land of Israel, without any personal agendas.
And precisely for this reason, perhaps, they stated that they had already received their portion of land east of the Jordan River. They feared that if receiving permission to permanently reside there was contingent upon their participation in the war, then they would not be fighting sincerely Le’Shem Shamayim – for the sake of G-d. They would fall short of the standard set by the Rambam – the elimination of all personal interests, and having pure intentions, fighting solely to glorify G-d’s Name. They therefore told Moshe that they wanted to be given their portion unconditionally – so that they could fight the wars with the other tribes with pure sincerity, without any ulterior motives, as is required.
Moshe, however, did not approve. In his response to the tribes of Reuben and Gad, he made it clear to them that their permission to permanently settle the region of Eber Ha’Yarden depended upon their participation in the war. He explicitly instructed Yehoshua and Elazar – who would lead the people across the river into the Land of Israel – that if Reuven and Gad did not comply, they would be required to settle with the other tribes in Eretz Yisrael (32:30). Reuben and Gad were expected to meet the challenge of fighting with pure, genuine motives despite knowing that their right to settle the territory they desired depended on their participation in the war. Moshe set the bar exceedingly high – demanding that Reuben and Gad overcome their vested interests and do the right thing purely for the right reasons – to bring glory to Hashem.
This should be our aspiration, as well. We must try, as much as possible, to perform Misvot and to conduct our lives purely Le’Shem Shamayim, to bring glory to Hashem, and not for our own personal concerns.