This week, the double portion of Matot-Masei is read. Matot means “tribes,” and Masei means “journeys.”
In the Torah portion of Matot, the tribes of Reuben and Gad approached Moses with a special request concerning land. These tribes were wealthy, as they had a great amount of livestock. When they saw that the grazing potential in the lands east of the Jordan River would be perfect for their flock, they wanted to settle there—outside of the Promised Land. They requested permission to stay there and not cross over to the other side of the Jordan with the rest of their brethren who were about to go in and conquer the Land.
Moses was upset with their request, saying, “Shall your brothers go to war, and you sit here?” He chastised them for discouraging the rest of the tribes from entering the Land of Israel, just like the ten spies.
After thinking about Moses’ words, they told him, “…We will build sheepfolds here for our cattle, and cities for our little ones” (JPS 1917, Num. 32:16), and they promised to join the rest of their brethren in the conquest of the Land.
Immediately, yet subtly, Moses corrected them, saying, “Build you cities for your little ones, and folds for your sheep; and do that which hath proceeded out of your mouth” (Num. 32:24). Notice, the tribes of Reuben and Gad mentioned their livestock first, then their families. But Moses mentions their families first, then their livestock.
Finally, they understood what Moses was saying. Their response was, “…Thy servants will do as my lord commandeth. Our little ones, our wives, our flocks, and all our cattle, shall be there in the cities of Gilead; but thy servants will pass over, every man that is armed for war, before the Lord to battle, as my lord saith” (Num. 32:25–27).