28 Tammuz 5773 / July 5-6, 2013
In this week’s double portion, we come across one of the more impressive conflict resolution scenarios in the Torah. Before entering the Promised Land, the tribes of Reuben and Gad share with Moses that they’d prefer to take the land east of the Jordan river, as it was fertile and would comfortably hold their substantial flocks. Moses doesn’t particularly like this idea, as the plan all along had been for all of the Israelites to conquer the Promised Land, and then to draw lots to see where each tribe would settle within it. So, Moses loses his cool, scolds the Reubenites and Gadites: “Are your brothers to go to war while you stay here?” He also compares them to the scouts 40 years prior who returned with negative reports of the Promised Land (due to fear), poisoning the will of the Israelites. On the eve of battle, Moses could hardly allow for the Israelites to be made nervous…
However, instead of calamity, in response to Moses’s concerns, the Reubenites and Gadites proposed what in the end turned out to be a workable solution from Moses’s perspective: They’d quickly build pens for their flocks and cities for their children, and then every single soldier from the two tribes would accompany the Israelites into the Promised Land, and would not return until after the entire land had been conquered. A fair compromise, no?
The ancient rabbis were not as kind in their assessment. They viewed the Reubenites and Gadites as being motivated by money (they pay particular attention to the fact that the two tribes put their flocks before their children, when stating “let us build pens for our flocks and cities for our children.”). Coupled with their lack of desire to settle in the Promised Land, the ancient rabbis saw the Reubenites and Gadites as worshipping wealth rather than God.
Too often, when facing potential conflicts, we get all worked up (as Moses did) and entrench ourselves in positions, rather than striving to identify underlying issues, and how best to address them. Moses likely would have framed his position as: “you must enter the Promised Land.” But his underlying issue was having the full Israelite force fight together in order to have the best chance of conquering the Promised Land, per God’s instructions. By identifying his underlying issue, rather than by being distracted by his position, the Reubenites and Gadites were able to offer a solution that was deemed acceptable by Moses.
This Shabbat, reflect on the conflicts that exist in your life. Think about the positions taken by both sides, and instead of dwelling on them, strive to identify the underlying issues. Work towards resolution. Report back.