The parsha begins with the mitzvos of Nedarim. Since the last parsha dealt with korbonos of Yom Tov the connection between the two is that when a person vows to bring his korbon he is obligated to fulfill his promise on the coming Yom Tov, when he visits the Bais Hamikdosh.
The Sefas Emes writesthrough a vow Yisroel were given the power to endow an object with Holiness by mere words. This is one of the most elevated powers that man is capable of and is why it was placed near the end of the Torah.
Regarding the chet of the Eigel, Hashem swore to destroy whoever worships powers other than Hashem. Moshe in defense of Klal Yisroel reminded Hashem of the laws of annulling vows that he had taught him on Har Sinai. Moshe was described as “Ish Ha'elokim” he was privileged to be able to annul vows made by Hashem like an “ish”/husband.
(31:2) “Nikom Nikmas Benei Yisroel…Acher Teyasef El Amov-Avenge the revenge of Benei Yisroel..then be gathered to your people.” Moshe is told by Hashem to avenge Benei Yisroel against the Midyanim and then you will be gathered to your people. Moshe knew he could have prolonged his life by delaying to do this mitzvah, but still he did not hesitate but immediately prepared the army for battle. In contrast when Yehoshua was told he would not die until the entire land of Israel was parceled out, he reasoned it would be to their advantage if he delayed defeating the thirty one kings in the land of Canaan. He knew that after he dies Benei Yisroel would have a downfall morally. As long as he was alive he could guide them. By delaying Benei Yisroel's settling in Eretz Yisroel, the land that has ten types of keddusha, Hashem, midda-keneged-midah made short by ten years the life of Yehoshua.
The question is what connection is there between the avenging of Midian and Moshe’s death? Both are bound by the same posuk. The Gemarrah in Sotah writes that when Klal Yisroel sinned with the daughters of Moav they worshiped the idol Baal Peor. Moshe destroyed this idol and sunk it into the ground. Moshe Rabeinu was buried opposite this idol. Each year on the anniversary of that sin the idol rises from the ground to accuse Klal Yisroel anew. When it sees Moshe’s burial place it is returned back to the ground. This is the meaning of the posuk when it says “Nikom Nikmas Benei Yisroel…Acher Teyasef El Amov-Avenge the revenge of Benei Yisroel..after being gathered to your people.” The word acher literally means after. Moshe was to take revenge on Midian even after leaving this world.
Billem was killed in this battle against Midian. What was Billem doing in Midian? When he discovered that his advice to seduce the Jews had caused the death of twenty four thousand Jews, he traveled to Midian to collect his fee. This would cost him his life. When the Jews, who were outnumbered, miraculously overpowered the enemy Billem knew that he must flee. He used his powers of magic to attempt to save himself by enabling both he and the kings of Midian fly. He flew up until he reached the Kisay Hakovod. Pinchas followed him there and raised the tzitz upon which were the words “Kodesh laHashem”. Billem and the kings fell to the earth and Pinchas killed them with his sword. Benei Yisroel killed the men if Midian but left the women alive. This angered Moshe because it was the women that caused them to sin. They marched all the women of Midian past the tzit, whereupon the face of those guilty turned green and were killed.
(32:1) “U’Mikneh Rav Haya L’benei Reuvein U’Libenei Gad –The children of Reuvein and the children of Gad had abundant livestock.” Thus begins the chapter of the request for land on the other side of the Jordan. The Benei Gad and Benei Reuvain asked for their portion of the land to be outside of Eretz Yisroel. How could they do this? They would be giving up almost half the mitzvos of the Torah? Secondly why was half of Shevet Menashe included in this deal? They never requested to be split in half? Thirdly the daughters of Tzelafchad had previously shown such intense desire for the land that the laws of inheritance were redefined in their honor. And yet we find that they wind up not receiving the land after all? They were from the tribe of Menashe that were split in half. Rashi in Bereishis (49:22) brings a Midrash that claims the daughters of Tzelafchad received land on the other side of the Jordan. They were asked to only marry within their tribe and wound up settling across the river outside the land. How can we understand this after all the struggles they went through out of their love for the land?
The answer lies in what seems to be a question of faith. The truth is that the questions being posed at the end of the 40 years in the desert were not any more agreeable to Hashem than the concerns raised by the nation 40 years earlier at the time of the Spies. In both instances the questions seemed to reflect on a lack of faith and trust in Hashem. Whether issues of strategy and warfare, or land divisions and pasture land, the assumption should have been that Hashem would provide the nation, the tribes, and each individual with exactly what they needed. If the tribes of Reuven and Gad happen to have large herds requiring pasture land one of two things should have happened. Either they would discover that their allotted portion in the Promised Land was sufficient for their needs; or, they would have to adjust their holdings to accommodate their apportioned section. The notion of asking to annex the trans-Jordan area to better accommodate their cattle holdings suggested a lack of trust and faith in G- d. That is why Moshe’s immediate response to their request was to accuse them of doing the same thing that the Spies had done! (31:10-16) However, the daughter’s of Tzlaphchad were the perfect contrast to the request of Reuven and Gad. They willingly placed their personal destinies in the hands of Hashem’s law. Whatever Moshe would rule in their case they would accept. Had Moshe ruled that they would not inherit their father’s portion of land they would have accepted Hashem’s decree. To their benefit Hashem informed Moshe that they could and would inherit their father’s portion. However, at the end of Bamidbar they were informed that it was conditional on their not marrying outside of the tribe of Menashe. That too they accepted unquestioningly as the law of Hashem. For the Daughters of Tzlaphchad, Hashem’s law defined what was in their best interest. If it wasn’t Hashem’s wish it could not be to their benefit. If it was Hashem’s wish it had to be for their benefit. Beyond Hashem’s law there were no other expectations or needs.
Menashe was the older of Yoseph’s two sons. We are told that he was the “translator” at the time of Yoseph’s encounter with his brothers in Egypt. We are further told that Menashe was the one who spent more time with his father in issues of government and administration. Ephraim, on the other hand, appears to have been more involved in scholarly pursuits. I believe that we can conclude that Menashe was better trained to withstand the influences of the non-Jewish world than his brother Ephraim. Moshe attached Menashe to the tribes of Reuven and Gad because Menashe had the qualities of his father in surviving alone among the nations. It was Yoseph who remained so connected to the teachings of Yakov that he not only maintained his own level of righteousness, he was even able to raise his sons to such devotion that Yakov said, (Ber.48:5) “Ephraim and Menashe are to me like Reuven and Shimon!” To make sure that Reuven and Gad would maintain their levels of commitment and devotion in spite of being away from the rest of the nation Moshe sent ½ the tribe of Menashe to support them and protect them. Furthermore, as we saw from the Daughters of Tzlaphchad, the tribe of Menashe was endowed with a special love for Eretz Yisroel (Rashi 27:1). The love of Menashe for Eretz Yisroel would balance out the self-imposed distance of Gad and Reuven.
The lesson of the end of Bamidbar is very obvious. Eretz Yisroel is ours because Hashem gave it to us to use in His service. We must trust that He provided us with all the necessary tools to accomplish our individual and collective missions. Adjusting Hashem’s plan to fit our concept of what we need or what should be stems from a lack of faith in Hashem and the acceptance that whatever we have is exactly what we need. It wasn’t by coincidence that the daughter’s of Tzlaphchad were born into the tribe of Menashe and that Menashe was the tribe Moshe trusted to balance out his concerns for the tribes of Reuven and Gad. It wasn’t by coincidence that the last words of the Torah (Sefer Devarim is basically a repetition of the first four books) teach us this lesson of faith in Hashem and the acceptance that whatever we have is exactly what we need.
(32:1) “U’Mikneh Rav Haya L’benei Reuvein U’Libenei Gad –The children of Reuvein and the children of Gad had abundant livestock.” There is perhaps another approach to understanding the motives of these two tribes. The Benei Gad and Benei Reuvain asked for their portion of the land to be outside of Eretz Yisroel. How could they do this? They have waited over 400 years for this moment. They stood at the border of Eretz Yisroel and rejected it sight unseen? They would be giving up almost half the mitzvos of the Torah? Secondly why was half of Shevet Menashe included in this deal? They never requested to be split in half; they never requested a portion of that land.
If we look at Moshe’s response perhaps we can gain a new insight to this story. (32:20) “Im Tasun es Hadovar im Teichaltzu Lifnei Hashem-If you do this thing, if you arm yourselves before Hashem.” Moshe replies that if they arm themselves before Hashem, and cross the Jordan before Hashem, and conquer the land before Hashem…Five times the words “before Hashem” appear in this passage. What is Moshe trying to convey? We find the words “Lifnei Hashem- before Hashem” in Tehillim (96:13) ““Lifnei Hashem Ki Voh, Ki Voh Haretz Lishpot Teivel B’tzedek Vamim Bemunaso- Before Hashem he will have arrived, he will have arrived to judge the Earth, He will judge the world with righteousness, and peoples with His faithfulness.” The posuk speaks of the time in the future when Moshiach will come and the entire world will see Hashem. The veil upon which Hashem is hidden in this world will be removed. Hashem will be visible in every tree and rock. Then He will judge the faithful. How does this connect to the request of these two tribes?
The parsha begins with the laws of vows. Then it goes on to the war against Midian after which Moshe is told he is to die. What Reuvein and Gad saw was that it is possible to annul a vow. Perhaps Hashem can change his vow of refusing Moshe entry into the land? After all he was standing on what was to be Eretz Yisroel in the future. What Reuvein and Gad wanted was to bring the Moshiach now! Avraham was promised the lands of ten nations. Klal Yisroel was given only seven at this time. The other three nations were destined to become part of Eretz Yisroel when Moshiach comes. That is the lands on the other side of the Jordan. So they said we will take our place with our brothers and battle the enemies of Hashem and when we come back this will be our inheritance. They sensed that they had a connection to the land they were upon. The fact that Hashem permitted them to settle there proves that perhaps they were right, this was their destiny. The opening statement made by them “U’Mikneh Rav Haya L’benei Reuvein U’Libenei Gad –The children of Reuvein and the children of Gad had abundant livestock.”can be read alternatively as they acquired a bond with their “RAV” with Moshe Rabeinu. They could not break that bond.
Moshe responded “If you do this thing, if you arm yourselves before Hashem.” Moshe replies that if they arm themselves before Hashem, and cross the Jordan before Hashem, and conquer the land before Hashem. He wants to know if this is really their intention. He then gives them half the tribe of Menashe. (32:33) “Vayiten Lohem Moshe L’vinei Gad U’Livnei Ruvein U’lichatzi Shevet Menashe ben Yosef-So Moshe gave to them - to the children of Gad and to the children of Ruvein and to half the tribe of Menashe the son of Yosef.” Why does the Torah mention that Menashe is the son of Yosef? They never requested to be split in half; they never requested a portion of that land. But the reason is because in order for the Moshiach ben Dovid to come, the Moshiach ben Yosef must come first. Manshe is connected to Moshiach ben Yosef. That’s why he was placed together with Reuvein and Gad. Everything was now in place. But did they really believe? Moshe responds with the words “before Hashem” five times. The gematria of the words “Lifnei Hashem” equals 196 five times equals 980 the same as the words “Ani Mamin B’vias Hamoshiach-I believe in the coming of the Moshiach.” This coming year is 5776, in Hebrew it is Tuf Shin Aylin Vav. In Gematria Tuf Shin Aylin Vav. is equal to Biyas Hamoshiach.
Why did these two tribes, in particular, have vast herds of cattle? We know that Shevet Gad had a special closeness to the munn. They ate the munn exclusively not partaking in any other foods. Therefore their flocks remained untouched growing larger and larger over the 40 year period. Shevet Reuvein was the first born. He thus received a double portion of his fathers inheritance thereby giving him abundant cattle as well.
(32:16) “Vayomru Gidros Tzone Nivneh L’Mikneinu Poh V’Arim L’tapeinu-They said we will build protection here for the cattle and cities for the children.” We find in Moshe’s response that he reverses the order saying that first they should look after the children and then take care of the cattle. Implying that they had their priorities wrong. However the Kli Yakar explains that this was a strategic move. If they would be attacked, the cattle would be the first point of contact giving them time to secure the children. Moshe, on the other hand reversed it saying by placing the children first you will be displaying your faith and lack of fear.
According to the Or Hachaim the request was asked in a strange way. They said “Haretz Asher Hekah Hashem-the land that Hashem smote”? The reason that they made their request in such a way was so that their claim would not raise any objections from the other tribes. If the people as a whole had conquered the land in question by what right would they have to claim it for themselves? Secondly how could they have imagined that these two tribes would be allowed to live securely in a land that had already been conquered while the other tribes would have to face a war in order to secure their heritage? Therefore these two tribes were careful to make their request in such a way as to neutralize these objections. They said “Haretz asher hekah Hashem- The land that Hashem smote.” The tribes could not have any objection that the people as a whole had conquered it because that was not the case. Hashem did battle for them as a result these lands were Hashem's to allocate. As far as the second claim of their living securely, they said that such an argument would only be sound if Benei Yisroel had to conquer the Canaanites by their own effort. Seeing that Hashem was to do battle for them, the conquest of Canaan would proceed the same way as the lands of Sichon and Og. Therefore the other tribes were in no greater danger than before. As far as them requesting land outside of Eretz Yisroel the Rambam writes that the land of Israel comprises of every place conquered by a Jewish king or prophet provided that such a conquest had met with the approval of most of the nation. However if an individual or even a whole tribe had waged war on their neighbors and conquered even part of their land it would not be considered part of the Holy land even if the territory in question had been part of the lands promised to Avraham by Hashem. “In this case it is clear that since it was Hashem himself who had conquered the lands for them that it should be considered equal in terms of kiddusha.
The Arizal writes that Reuvein and Gad were never meant to receive a portion in Eretz Yisroel. they had a spiritual defect from birth and the land of Israel would only accept spiritually pure souls. When Yakov married Rochel, he was tricked into consummating his marriage with Leah instead. Therefore when Yakov was with Leah, his thoughts, after 84 years of abstaining from relations, was on Rochel. This caused a slight blemish in Reuvein’s spiritual genes. When Leah saw that she was no longer having children she gave her handmaid Zilpa to Yakov without telling him. The result was the birth of Gad. She was wrong for had she waited she would have given birth to Gad and once again there was a slight blemish in the spiritual genes.
This leaves us with half the tribe of Menasshe. Why only half? Yosef married Osnas, the child of Dinah and Shechem. Dinah had been rapped by Shechem and gave up the child produced from that union. Osnas wound up at the home of Potifar and became Yosef’s wife. Therefore when Yosef had two sons his spiritual genes went into Ephraim and Menashe, but part of Menashe received a slight defect from his mother which resulted in that tribe being split.
(32:18) "Lo Noshuv El Botainu Ad Hisnachel Benei Yisroel es Nichaloso-We shall not return to our homes until the children of Israel will have inherited every man his inheritance." In doing so they were adding an additional seven years before they could return to their homes. What was the purpose of adding more then Moshe commanded them to do? The Ohr Hachaim writes it was to show that they will not contest giving up their portion of land in Israel proper. The Emek Dovor says it would seem improper to have them settled in their land,, across Jordan while the rest of Israel were waiting to be settled.