Priorities: The Lessons of Reuben and Gad
From early in our lives, we are drilled about “priorities.” It usually begins, in earnest, during the high school years, as teenagers are pushed to think about the future, to get their priorities “straight.” But what is straight? How can one know the difference between the right priorities and those priorities pushed upon us by our family and/or society.
An interesting lesson about priorities can be learned from Chapter 32 in the Book of Numbers. The leaders of the tribes of Reuben and Gad approach Moses to ask permission to settle on land east of the Jordan River (land conquered by the Israelites but not within the borders of Canaan) as it is perfect for grazing. When Moses is angered that these tribes appeared to be abandoning the other 10 tribes just before the war to conquer Canaan, the men of Reuven and Gad immediately clarify that they still have every intention to fight. They tell Moses: “We will build enclosures for our livestock here and cities for our children. We will then arm ourselves quickly [and go] before the Children of Israel until we have brought them to their place: (32:16-17).
Rashi highlights the subtle rebuke Moses gives to Reuben and Gad in verse 24: “So build yourselves cities for your children and enclosures for your sheep, and what has proceeded from your mouth you shall do.” Notice how Moses switched the order of the phrases “cities for your children” and “enclosures for your sheep.” In this way, Moses reminded them not to put the safety and comfort of their livestock before that of their own families.
Judaism is not an ascetic religion, nor does it view wealth as a negative, but rather as a gift from God. But the greatest treasure, and first priority, is always one’s family.
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