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First Things First

By Rabbi Yedidiah Shapira

In Parshat Matot (Numbers 32) we read how the tribes of Reuben and Gad (later joined by half of the tribe of Manasseh) ask for the lands east of the Jordan, these being prime pastureland for their cattle. Moses is initially angered by the request, concerned that they were not willing to help their people in the struggle for the Land of Israel but subsequently agrees on the condition that they first join, and lead by being the advance scouts, in Israel's conquest of the lands west of the Jordan.

Moses then responds in agreement but changes the order of their construction projects:
"32:24 - So build yourselves cities for your children and enclosures for your sheep, and what has proceeded from your mouth you shall do."

The Tribes had put sheep first, then children.

Rashi Comments: "They were more concerned about their possessions than about their sons and daughters, since they mentioned their livestock before [mentioning] their children. Moses said to them, "Not so! Treat the fundamental as a fundamental, and the matter of secondary importance as a matter of secondary importance. First 'build cities for your children,' and afterwards 'enclosures for your sheep'" (verse 24) - [Midrash Tanchuma Mattoth 7]

Can it then be that that they actually loved their sheep more than their children?

Rather, it seems to me that they made the assumption that their ability to care for their children was predicated on how many sheep they owned -their financial situation. Hence they were always putting their economic involvement first. To this Moses responded -You worry about your children first - the "sheep" come last. G-d ultimately provides sustenance. We have to work and work hard, but we are only creating a vessel, G-d fills the vessel we create by our toil.

The implication is obvious, very often; there are so many things we do not do with our children because of the demands of the schedule of our professions and businesses. To this Moshe responds: First things first! Devote yourself to the needs of your children, in particular their spiritual needs, and the 'sheep" will happen. To bring the children into the world and care for them -this is your mission. For your work to bear fruit, that's G-d's job (once we actually toil and make the "vessel" no "thumb twiddling" is being advocated here)

We must first -in the sense of priority- as mothers and fathers, see what our children need of us physically and spiritually, and only then we turn to our "sheep" -our economic lives.

(Rabbi) Yedidiah Shapira

(Find other articles by Rabbi Yedidiah Shapira)

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