Weekly Torah Commentary — Matot July 17, 2014

MATTOT – Bamidbar/Numbers 30:2 – 32:42

In this week’s Torah reading, the tribes of Gad and Reuben approached Moses, asking that he allow them to remain on the other side of the Jordan where there was sufficient land for them to farm their animals. They had vast numbers of cattle and the area they desired was perfect pasture land.

Moses became angry at their request and replied with a strong rebuke pointing out to them that by not entering the land of Israel they would be abandoning their fellow Israelites in the upcoming conquest.
He solemnly reminds them of the incident of the spies and its terrible consequences. In reply to Moshe’s criticisms, they assured Moses, with his permission, they would build houses for their wives and children and corrals for the animals and then they would gladly join the rest of the nation in conquering the land.

Some have asked, “Isn’t it possible that they intended to do just that all along? And if so, why didn’t they defend themselves at the first sound of Moses’ stinging rebuke?

There is a verse in the book of Proverbs: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” (Proverbs 27:6) The commentaries explain that the ‘wounds’ delivered by one’s friend here refer to words of rebuke, of discipline or correction. The rebuke of someone who genuinely cares about his friend is of great benefit because it is aimed at helping him improve himself and one’s friend is inclined to deliver even a very firm correction with love. Our friend actually does us a great service because, if we will receive the correction with humility of heart, he or she is actually helping us to grow spiritually. This is one of the greatest gifts we give each other. When the tribes of Gad and Reuben heard Moses rebuke them, they knew that he was doing so from the purest of motives and only had their best interests in mind. Thus, even though they perhaps could have defended themselves, it was more worthwhile to listen to his words and try to profit from them.

Lest anyone misunderstand, however, we must realize that every rebuke or correction we receive is of great value, now just those who come from a loving friend. It is part of life that at times we all experience a harsh rebuke. The truly spiritual person will hear the words, evaluate them and be willing to examine himself, no matter who delivered the rebuke. Rather than focus on the inept or unkind way in which the accuser spoke to us, the more important issue is to focus on the words that were spoken for, truth be told, even in the most unwelcomed rebuke or correction, there is usually some kernel of truth.
If we are truly committed to growing in spiritual maturity, it behooves us to be humble enough to acknowledge that and respond accordingly.

Another verse in Proverbs admonishes us: “Listen to counsel and accept discipline, that you may be wise for the rest of your days.”Prov. 19:20

Did you notice that we are told here to ‘listen’ to counsel (advice) but to ‘accept’ discipline. Listening implies an element of contemplation and thought – when a person is given advice he should think about it before he acts upon it. In contrast when one is rebuked he should accept it without self-defense and then reflect on it as a means towards spiritual growth. Does this require a healthy dose of Humility? Absolutely! But then, isn’t humility considered one of the greatest of virtues?

It is understandable that most people do not enjoy being rebuked – it is unpleasant to be told that you have a character flaw or that your behavior was unacceptable. However, if we can determine to leave our ego out of the situation, push ourselves past the feelings of embarrassment, we will learn from every experience in life and over time appreciate rebukes and criticisms as powerful tools for our spiritual growth.

In Tune with Torah this week = ask yourself: how do I respond to correction? to criticism? Do I seek to learn from it to become a better person? Or do I get angry or indignant? “He has told you, O man, what the Lord requires of you: to do justice, to love righteousness and to walk humbly before your God.”

Shabbat Shalom

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