This week we read a story which identifies a more nuanced form of criticism which plagued our ancestors and still exists in our community today. Just after collecting their spoils of war, the tribes of Reuben and Gad approach Moses with a request to remain on the east side of the Jordan along with their wealth. Moses objects, immediately reminding them that staying behind would be to abandon their brethren as they cross into the Promised Land to begin a new life and face real dangers.
Moses then offers a second point of contention, recalling the disastrous results the spies had created when they returned from their mission with critical remarks: “and they saw the land and they dissuaded the hearts of the children of Israel not to come into the land” (Numbers 32:9). There is a difference between these two objections.
Moses’s first objection is one of principle, insisting that Reuben and Gad not abandon their brethren. The message for us here is universal. But the second objection contains a subtle and practical insight. As Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch points out in his Torah commentary, Moses uses an unusual word, in fact twice, in this second objection: “dissuade”. The behaviour of Reuven, Gad and the spies is discouraging the children of Israel at a time when they needed to be focused and determined.
Today, we face a similar challenge to that of Reuben and Gad. From a distance we can see the difficulties of life in Israel and the problems we face there as a people. But ambivalence has a disastrous effect on the morale of our brethren who are under enormous pressure. Just as with our ancestors, this ambivalence can discourage an entire generation of our people when they need determination, strength and support.