As the B’nei Yisrael stood on the threshold of their promised land the tribes of Gad and Reuven approached Moshe with a request. Given their exceptional wealth in terms of cattle ownership, they wished to be alloted the land of Gilaad, a land of extensive green pastures to live in rather than a portion in Eretz Yisrael proper. Here they could be sure that their cattle would flourish.
The Torah reveals an extended dialogue between Moshe and these tribes in which Moshe expressed concern at the possibility that the rest of the B’nei Yisrael might think that these tribes were too scared to conquer the land of Israel and thereby be put off themselves from entering the land. Moshe also stated his insistence that these tribes participate in the military conquest of the land prior to taking root in their chosen residence on the other side of the Yarden river.
One issue Moshe does not seem to address is the apparent ease with which these tribes took the decision to make their home outside of Eretz Yisrael. The Jews had lived a miraculous existence for the past 40 years whilst at the same time thirsting for the end of their sentence in the desert when they could enter the land destined for them. It seems incongruous that after such trials and tribulations these tribes should not wish for a portion of the land they had dreamed of. Moshe who himself had been prohibited from entering the land despite his desperate wishes to do so must have found their lack of zeal unfathomable.
The midrash (Rabbah;22,7) uses this episode as a springboard to consider the true meaning and pitfalls of material wealth. In particular we are taught a lesson which is relevant to each and everyone of us and which could rightly be described as a terrifying one when contemplated properly.
The midrash tells us that “three gifts were created in the world. A person who merits one of these gifts acquires all the good things in the whole world. The person who merits wisdom has merited everything. The person who merits strength has merited everything. A person who has acquired wealth has acquired everything. When does this apply? When these gifts are gifts of heaven and come through the power of the Torah. If these gifts come through the strength and wealth of human endeavour they are worthless”.
The midrash then goes on to state that when these gifts do not come from Hashem “they are destined to be withdrawn”.
As evidence of this the midrash draws our attention to the case of the tribes of Gad and Reuven who sought to protect their money and take up residence outside of Eretz Yisrael. As a result continues midrash, these tribes were the first of the tribes to be sent into exile.
The Maharal (Netiv Haosher) offers a gripping explanation of this midrash. We are told famously (Bereishit Rabbah 1,2) that Hashem “looked into the Torah first and then created the world”. The meaning of this statement is that the Torah was and is the blueprint for mankind. It contains within it guidelines for how one is supposed to lead his life effectively and prosperously. When one recognizes the existence of a creator and his interest in their daily lives, one becomes attached to Hashem. As a result one also enters the framework of the Torah and can benefit from the beracha of living life within that framework. Furthermore any benefits gained in this way are long lasting. The Torah is infinite and its berachot are similarly permanent.
The opposite also holds true. If one makes decisions and lives life not in accordance with the spirit of the Torah then he cannot benefit from the beracha of a Torah life. Any wisdom, strength or wealth that has been achieved outside the framework of the eternal Torah and will not have the power to endure.
Not all challenges that face us whether in business or in our personal dealings are clear-cut and each act we do needs to be carefully considered to clarify whether that particular act is within the “blueprint” of the Torah. The tribes of Gad and Reuven strove to build their wealth at the expense of the spiritual benefits of living in Eretz Yisrael and as a result their wealth proved short lived.
May we will merit to live our lives within the framework of the Torah and enjoy its continual and permanent benefits.