Weekly Torah Commentary – Matot-Maasei August 5, 2016

Numbers 30 – 36

In this week’s portion, two of the tribes, Reuben and Gad, agree together that the land east of the Jordan is ideally suited as pasture for their large herds and flocks of livestock. They approach Moses and ask permission to settle there rather than cross the Jordan. Initially, Moses is furious at their request.  “Shall your fellow countrymen go to war while you sit here?” he asks. Had they learned nothing from the sin of the spies who, by demoralizing others through their behavior, condemned an entire generation to forty years of wandering in the desert?

Reuben

The Reubenites and Gadites get the point. They protest that they are not trying to exempt themselves from the struggles of their fellow Israelites. They are fully prepared to accompany them into the promised land and fight alongside them to conquer the Land. “We will not return to our homes until every Israelite has received his inheritance.”  After declaring publicly their commitment to participate in taking the Land, Moses grants their request on condition that they fulfill their word. “When the land is then conquered before God you may then return, innocent before God and Israel, and this land will be yours as your permanent property before God.”

The phrase – ‘you will be innocent before God and Israel’ – teaches an important lesson. It is not enough to do what is right in the eyes of God. One must also behave in such a way as to be seen to have done right in the eyes of one’s fellow man. It is incumbent upon us to live in such a way that we are above suspicion, men and women of uncontested integrity.

That sounds great but the reality of life is that at times even when we do conduct ourselves in a manner that we think is above suspicion and full of integrity, we still may find ourselves the object of criticism and judgments from others.  When that happens, how do we handle it?

First of all, those who pass judgment on others say more about themselves than they do about the person they are criticizing.  Remember that!  What we should be doing is finding the best in every person, not emphasizing what we perceive as their weaknesses or failures. (If, however, the criticism is constructive, our response should be one of humility and teachableness.)

Secondly, keep in mind that keeping a clear conscience before God is a much higher priority than being approved of by men.  It takes courage to do right, even if one has to stand alone, but that is the kind of integrity and courage that great men and women throughout the ages have exhibited and we do well to follow in their footsteps.

Reuben and Gad accepted Moses’ criticism and correction.  To their credit they kept their promise and went in to the Land to fight against the enemies of Israel.  But in the end, they returned to the other side of the Jordan.  They stopped short of taking possession of the Land God had promised Israel.  At the very border, instead of looking straight ahead, they looked to the right and to the left and decided to stay.

This is a second deeply significant lesson out of this week’s Torah portion.  When God instructs us, it is not enough to go part of the way, or even 98% of the way.  If we are committed to live by His Word, there is no room for compromise. Go all the way!

After the death of Moses, God spoke to Joshua and said, “Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the Torah which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. Joshua 1:7

We are constantly bombarded with more than enough distractions in this world that easily draw our attention ‘to the right and to the left’ of what God has told us in His word.  This week’s Torah portion, as we come to the end of the book of Numbers, closes with these two very significant admonitions.

  1. Let integrity guide your thoughts, words and actions regardless of whether or not anyone understands. Your focus is to please God, not men.
  2. Refuse to be a 98% kind of person.  Go for the gold!  Be radical enough to obey God fully.

In Tune with Torah this week = taking these two principles to heart and checking our own lifestyle.  How are we doing?

Shabbat shalom

 

 

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