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At the end of the portion Masei, Moses is leaving this world and there is a whole discussion about how the physical land of Israel is going to be divided up. But the two tribes of Reuben and Gad, and the half tribe of Menasha, decide that they don’t want to live in the land of Israel; they want to live across the Jordan River.
They go to Moses and tell him they know that they are supposed to enter into the land of Israel after 40 years of travelling, but now towards the end of it, they don’t want to go. Moses tells them it’s okay, but in order to get this great gift, they have to send their soldiers with the rest of the Israelites, and then they will have the right to take the land for themselves. It’s a great story; two and a half tribes had a great desire. They asked Moses if it was ok, and Moses finds a way to make it okay, with a little caveat, that they have to send their soldiers. Everybody’s happy.
However, the Hidah, Rav Hayyim Yosef David Azulai, writes that the truth of the situation was that the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Menasha had not perfected themselves enough and were not on the spiritual level to enter into the elevation of Israel.
Therefore, the real reason that the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Menasha did not enter was because they didn’t merit it. And the Hidah says to look at the greatness of what the Creator does here. The Creator does not want to embarrass them. Can you imagine if they had come to the borders of the land of Israel and Moses told them, “No, wait. Only nine and a half tribes can go in because they merited it, they did the work, and the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Menasha have to stay on this side because they haven’t merited it yet. Maybe in a few years, if they continue doing the work, they’ll be able to enter.“ They’d be so embarrassed! So instead of embarrassing them, the Creator put it in their hearts that not only should they want to stay, but that they’d even beg for it; this way, they begged and worked to receive something that was actually a punishment for them.
Let’s think about this in terms of our own lives. How many times do we beg for things? We say, “I want this to happen. I really want that to happen.” It can actually be very dangerous, because who knows if the only reason why a certain desire is coming to us is because it is keeping us from getting something greater? Think about it - the thousands of people in the tribes of Reuben and Gad and the half tribe of Menasha were so excited. They were so thankful that their prayers had been answered and they got to stay on the other side of the Jordan River. They thought they got exactly what they wanted, instead of realizing that their souls really needed to do the work and merit entering into the land of Israel.
There are many great lessons here, but one of them is this idea of having humility about our spiritual desires. Next time we think, “This is what I need to do, and I hope the Creator gives me the strength to do it,” stop for a second and say, “you know what, there’s a good chance that this is completely not what I’m supposed to do.” We need to live our lives in a way that is constantly open to the fact that our great spiritual desire might actually be the worst thing for us.
When we think about our lives, our decisions, our desires, and what we push ourselves to do, we have to realize how dangerous that can be and to always have in our mind that yes, I hope this is what I’m supposed to do, and I hope if this is what I’m supposed to do, the Creator will assist me, but there’s a great chance that I am completely off and not only is this not what I’m supposed to do, but worse, it will be completely detrimental to me. We need to ask the Creator to show us what we’re supposed to do, to be completely open and never get locked into a certain action that we want to do or outcome that we want to achieve.
What we learn from the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Menasha is to always have humility in our spiritual desires and in our spiritual plan. It’s so interesting to see how wrong they were in the way they saw it. And the truth is that chances are today, right now, every single one of us has an aspect of our lives where we are acting like the tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Menasha. To be saved from our own spiritual desires, it is a good idea to remember this story and be open to the chance that everything we think we want to accomplish spiritually is completely wrong.