Sinai Synagogue, Shabbat AM, July 14, 2018
Rabbi Michael Friedland
With a long Torah reading and our celebrating again a new addition to our community we have very little time for a davar Torah.
So I will make it short.
In this morning’s reading the tribes of Reuben and Gad who have great amounts of cattle recognize that the land outside the Land of Israel that the Israelites have just conquered would be wonderful grazing land for all their sheep. They magnanimously offer to Moses that they will remain behind on this land and the rest of the Tribes can share the land of Israel. Moses is appalled at the idea “Don’t you realize that the reason we have been wandering the desert for 40 years is because your parents did the same thing? They refused to go into the Land.” But the Reubenites and Gadites clarify that they are more than willing to help conquer the promised land, in fact they will even be the shock troops, the Halutzim, who will lead the fight and when all of Israel is settled they will come back to this land and settle it.
In making this good will offer they explain to Moses, “We will build here sheepfolds for our flocks and towns for our children.” When Moses comes to understand what they are offering he accepts the offer on the condition that they fulfill it. He tells them, “Build towns for your children and sheepfolds for your flocks, but do what you have promised.” In accepting their offer he uses their words but makes a slight change in the order. They said we will build sheepfolds for the flocks and towns for the children. Moses reversed it – Build towns for the children and sheepfolds for the flocks. Not too significant a change but in fact it suggests a completely different priority of values. And this discrepancy in values continues prominently in our day.
In Wisconsin recently the Governor with the backing of the legislature welcomed Foxconn the company that makes Apple products in China. Foxconn is remarkable in their ability to corral a tremendous work force that can produce, modify and turnout millions of products quickly. They also have a poor record on worker rights, have lately been replacing workers with robots, and have a history of making promises that don't pan out according to industry observers.
The state promised 3 billion dollars in economic incentives in order to get Foxconn to promise it would provide 13,000 jobs. So each job is worth around a quarter of a million dollars to the state budget. They also ok'ed Foxconn’s requests for air and water permits that environmentalists insist will increase pollution and smog. And they did all this after cutting a billion dollars from state education budgets over the last five years.
So when the Reubenites and the Gadites told Moshe, “Hey, we are going to help conquer the land of Israel for you and in return we get the lands of Transjordan and Moab in order to build sheepfolds for our flocks and cities for our children, Moses is hearing what the people of Wisconsin (and the state of Indiana) hear regarding what values their government is primarily concerned with – first we will worry about making our states business friendly and as an afterthought we will think about the kids.
Moses corrects their priorities – No, first the kids, then business development. Rashi the great bible commentator puts it this way: “They, the Reubenites and Gadites evinced more concern for their own money than their sons and daughters, as they placed their cattle before their little ones. Said Moses to them, “Do not do so! Put first things first and secondary things second! First you build cities for you little ones and afterwards folds for your sheep.”
The Reubenites and Gadites listen to Moses’ rebuke and are moved. In response they agree “Your servants will do as my lord commands. Our children, our wives, our flocks, and all our other livestock will stay behind in the towns of Gilead.” They have reordered their priorities so that the children come first.
We would do well to heed the moral message of our great teacher Moses in our day as well.