In parshat Matot, Moshe is faced with a challenge from within bnei Yisrael. His reaction, and the discussion which follows, provides a model for healthy parenting.
Sefer Bamidbar opens with the high hopes of entering the land of Israel. Yet, after a series of rebellions, the first generation dies out in the desert. Now, as their children are about to complete this mission, there is a moment of crisis. Two tribes, Reuven and Gad (joined by half of Menashe), request to remain on the east side of the Jordan River, because of its excellent grazing land for their livestock. Why does this seemingly innocent request yield a strong and emotional reaction from Moshe?
Moshe’s words reflect his concerns: that they won’t help their “brothers” fight for the land and that like their fathers, they will “turn the minds” of bnei Yisrael from crossing into Israel. Moshe fears that this will be a repeat of the meraglim. However, as Rabbi Nati Helfgot points out, several literary elements in this “inverted meraglim” story show that this generation is stronger and has taken their parents’ past mistakes to heart. With the spies, 10 men speak negatively and only 2 advocate for settling Israel. Here, only 2 tribes request to stay on the east of Jordan, while 10 tribes will settle Israel. Moreover, the 2 tribes state clearly that they will help fight for Israel, dispelling Moshe’s fears of rebellious motives.
Moshe’s firm, preemptive response to bnei Reuven and Gad is understandable after the setbacks in the desert. They, in turn, show Moshe that they are different from the spies and display unity and commitment. This dynamic provides a model for parenting as well. Children will always make mistakes. The challenge for parents is finding a balance between standing firm in our values and beliefs, while also striving to be flexible and believing in our children’s ability to change and grow. Shabbat Shalom – Karen Miller Jackson