The Dangers of Acting in Haste

July 16 2009
We read this week about the decision of the tribes of Gad and Reuven to remain on the other side of the Jordan and not to settle within the borders of Eretz Yisrael. Chazal ascribe the following pasuk to their decision: "a land which was taken hastily (mevohelet) at first, will not be blessed later" (Mishle 20:21). What reason did these tribes give for settling there? They claimed that it was more suitable for raising cattle. Such a decision can only be made out of haste and confusion. There is no doubt that the other side of the Jordan had much to offer, but can we compare it to Eretz Yisrael, does it even remotely approach the advantage of being in closer proximity to the Beit HaMikdash and the Sanhedrin? They had the golden opportunity to live near the source of Torah and halachic rulings.

Had they not acted in such haste, they would have realized that the advantages to be gained far outweighed any gains in the raising of their sheep. Moshe tried very hard to convince them of the error in their decision, with a long lecture as recorded not only in Parshat Matot but in Parshat Devarim and the beginning of Vaetchanan as well. It was only when Moshe realized that he would be unable to sway them that he provided them with three cities of refuge, as it says: "then Moshe set aside three cities on the bank of the Jordan" (Devarim 4:41).

The act of designating cities of refuge on the other side of the Jordan also alluded to what could result from a decision made in such confusion and disarray. Chazal wonder why it was that in the Land of Israel three cities of refuge were designated for nine and a half tribes, while the same number was instituted for the remaining two and a half tribes who were destined to remain across the Jordan. Chazal explain (Makkot 9b) that in Gilad (across the Jordan) there were many murderers. Moshe was informing these two and a half tribes that he was providing them with a much greater area of refuge per capita because they were going to have many more murderers. We can assume that this was a result of their insistence on remaining a great distance from the Torah centers and the Sanhedrin. The people of Gad and Reuven are still not convinced and they therefore give preference to their sheep over settling near the Beit Hamikdash and the Sanhedrin.

Moshe did point out something in favor of the members of the tribe of Gad. Immediately preceding his death, Moshe praised them as having settled where they did: "he chose the first portion for himself for that is where the lawgiver's plot is hidden" (Devarim 33:21) - they chose to settle the lands of Sichon and Og for that was the beginning of the conquering of the land, and that was to be the ultimate burial place of Moshe Rabenu (Rashi ibid.). Presumably Moshe did not intend to justify their actions, only to find a point in their favor - unquestionably they should have opted for the sanctity of the Land and the center of Torah rather than worry about their sheep. The problem was that their decision was mevohal - made in a state of haste and confusion rather than with peace of mind.

The people of Reuven and Gad were certainly great people, among them many leaders and heads of Sanhedrin. We are only permitted to speak this way of them because this is how it appears in Chazal - given our limited ability to understand we are told that they gave preference to their livelihood over more important considerations. We can readily see their misplaced priorities in their statement to Moshe Rabenu "Pens for the flock shall we build here for our livestock and cities for our small children" (Bamidbar 32:16). Chazal point out (Bamidbar Rabba 22:9) that by mentioning their livestock before the children, they have taken a primary concern and made it secondary, and made a secondary concern primary. Moshe's response was in fact a rebuke: "build for yourselves cities for your small children and pens for your flock" (ibid. 24) - how can you place the flock above your children? Their promise should have been phrased beginning with the children and then mentioning the sheep. Had Gad and Reuven been asked whether the children are more important than the flock they certainly would have responded correctly.

They know that one cannot violate the Shabbat to raise sheep, whereas to save the life of a child they are required to. The problem was that they acted in a state of confusion - the moment the prospect of wealth came up they had lost all sense of priorities.

Chazal tell us that they were punished for this lack of priorities: "a land which was taken hastily at first, will not be blessed later". What eventually happened was that they were exiled a few years prior to Sanherib's exiling the remainder of the ten tribes (see Rashi Mishle 20:21). This resulted from their having elected to reside near the other nations rather than close to the Sanhedrin, thus they were first to be negatively influenced by the outside culture. There certainly were prophets and tzaddikim among them, yet in a general sense they acted in confusion and disarray without a clear mind and thus they were the first to be exiled.

Chazal (Bereishit Rabba 58:9) describe, lehavdil, an evil person who acted in haste - Ephron. Chazal use him as the classic example of "the wicked say much and perform not even little" (Baba Metzia 87a). Ephron promised Avraham the field and the cave free of charge: "I have given you the field, and as for the cave that is in it, I have given it to you" (Bereishit 23:11), yet in the end he collected the exorbitant fee of four hundred silver shekels described by the Torah as ovehr lasocher (ibid. 16) - the most valuable shekels of the time (see Rashi ibid. and Bechorot 50a that each shekel was worth one hundred selah).

Chazal (Bereishit Rabba 58:9) describe Ephron in terms of "Nivhal lahon ish ra ayin velo yeida ki cheser yevoenu" "One overeager for wealth has an evil eye; he does not know that want may befall him" (Mishle 28:22) - "one overeager for wealth has an evil eye" refers to Ephron, and "he does not know that want may befall him" refers to his being punished by having his name recorded in the Torah with the letter vav missing. (There are those who point out that "evil eye" - "ra ayin" and the name Ephron spelled without the vav have the numerical value of four hundred corresponding to the four hundred shekel payment Ephron extracted from Avraham. It was due to the four hundred shekels taken from Avraham by this "ra ayin" (value four hundred) that the Torah recorded his name without a vav (value four hundred).

In addition to meaning "overeager", "nivhal lahon" implies acting in haste, in confusion. When Ephron heard of the potential profit to be made here, he acted in haste and his whole mindset became one of great confusion. Do I stand to make big money? That takes precedence over all considerations! Who knows what reward was awaiting Ephron had he truly acted with chesed towards Avraham and Sarah, and given them the field and the cave free of charge as he had initially promised? This act of chesed could have been his ticket to the next world. Even if he was not worthy of this, he would have earned far more than four hundred silver shekels in this world. When Ephron, however, heard the clink of money, he forgot all about the chesed he had intended to perform with Avraham. The end result was that not only did he not profit but he lost a letter of his name from the Torah.

One of the Hoshanot recited by Ashkenazim on Hoshana Rabba begins with "adama me-erer" "ground from accursedness". The prayer lists in alphabetical order what we wish Hashem to save from what. For example "the ground from accursedness", "the grain from scorch", and "the vineyard from worms". One of the items enumerated is "save our soul from panic". My Rebbe HaRav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt"l explained that panic is something the soul needs to be saved from. The panic referred to here is acting in haste such that one's thoughts are now in disarray. Had Ephron's actions been well thought out, he would have realized that there was much more to be gained from acts of chesed with Avraham and Sarah, than the four hundred silver shekels he received, no matter how valuable. The sound of money caused Ephron to act in a state of confusion and thus give up his soul for eternity.

We all need to reflect on this - when we daven, do we realize that we are standing before the King of kings Who has the power of life and death in His hands? Today's situation certainly cries out for prayer, but the problem is that we are confused - so many other thoughts occupy our minds. R' Yehuda HaLevi said: "my heart is in the east (Israel) but I myself am at the end of the west". Many can fulfill this adage as: "I am at the WESTern Wall, but my heart is in the eastern bank (Bank Mizrahi)!" - confused by wealth. This attitude can only come from one whose thoughts are in a state of confusion causing harm to his soul. Ephron lost his entire world, while the tribes of Gad and Reuven were exiled. We must therefore do our utmost to insure that our inheritance not be one of confusion, that our prayers be orderly. We must pour our hearts out to Hashem and not daven out of haste and confusion. Haste to honor Hashem is fine, panic resulting from our current situation is also fine, but the prayer itself should be orderly.

People today are searching for segulot to aid us. One segula mentioned in Chazal is: "Whoever responds 'Amen: may His great Name be blessed' with all his might, the evil decree in judgment against him is torn up" (Shabbat 119b). There are two interpretations of "with all his might" - a) to shout it out loud, and b) to recite it with all the kavana and concentration one is able to muster. In practice, both interpretations are required - this is a sure segula for nullifying of the evil decrees against us.

The Kohen who was anointed for purposes of war would speak to the people: "Shma Yisrael atem krevim hayom lamilchama" "Hear O Israel, you are coming near to the battle against your enemies" (Devarim 20:3). Chazal ask why it is that he prefaced his remarks with the words "Shma Yisrael". They tell us that even if the only merit the Jewish people had is that they were strict about reciting the Shma then it is worthwhile to save them (see Rashi ibid.). Those who fight on the front lines must take great care to recite the Shma morning and evening. My Rebbe HaRav Gedaliah Eisenman once said that even if the soldiers do not recite the Shma, those of us remaining behind must. We may not be currently serving in the army, but our "Shma Yisrael Hashem Elokenu Hahsem Echad" can aid those on the battlefield.

Regarding our enemy we cannot say "some with chariots and some with horses, but we in the Name of Hashem our G-d call out" (Tehillim 20:8), for they also call out in the name of their god ("Allah Achbar"). We should at least not be less than them, we must and call out in the Name of Hashem - our G-d. May we merit that Hashem help us overcome our adversaries and peace should spread throughout the Land - not peace Camp David style but peace from our father in Heaven. This may explain why in the Kaddish it is not sufficient to say "yehei shlama rabba" "may there be an abundant peace, but also "oseh shalom biMromva HU yaase shalom" "He Who makes peace in His heights, may HE make peace". We are not looking for just any peace, but a peace from the One Who brings peace in the Heavens, so that if that happens we will truly merit life and salvation for the entire Jewish nation. Amen.

Venue: Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh


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