In the Presence of G-d

In our parsha, the tribes of Gad and Reuven approach Moshe and ask to remain on the eastern bank of the Jordan. Moshe’s response is a sharp rebuke. Yet, what was so severe in the request of the people of Gad and Reuven? It is possible to deal with the matter at length, however, we will address a single point.

The tribes of Gad and Reuven request the land that Hashem struck “before the Congregation of Israel” (32:4). They emphasize the advantage of the eastern bank of the Jordan in that “it is a land of pasture”. The objective of Gad and Reuven is material.

Moshe rebukes them in order to change their mode of thinking, and only when they change their ways, he accedes to their request. Moshe changes how they perceive the value of the Land of Israel. In response Gad and Reuven propose, “We will arm ourselves quickly and go before the Children of Israel” and they will not return to their homes “until each man in Israel receives his inheritance”. Moshe replies:

And Moshe said to them, ‘if you will do this thing and be the vanguard before Hashem, and every armed man will cross the Jordan before Hashem until their enemies are vanquished. (32:1)

From this point (verse 20) the phrase “before Hashem” appears seven times, while in verses 27 and 32 even the people of Gad and Reuven echo this phrase accordingly! This phrase changes the meaning of the Land of Israel and transforms a national war to a war that takes place “before Hashem”.

In addition, it seems this phrase indicates something unique about the Land of Israel. The idea of “before Hashem” appears hundreds of times in the Tanach, in various contexts. However, there is a special connection that appears multiple times, for example (Shemot 28:20):

And place the Choshen HaMishpat, the Urim and the Tumim- and it shall be over the heart of Aharon when he approaches before Hashem– and Aharon shall convey the law of the Children of Israel over his heart before Hashem, constantly.

“Before Hashem” denotes presence in the Beit HaMikdash, in resting place of the Divine Presence. And similarly, in many other places: “And you will answer and say before Hashem your God” (in the Bikkurim declaration, parashat Ki Tavo); “And you shall slaughter it by the northern side of the altar before Hashem” (Vayikra 1:11. Any many other similar verses there); “Only before Hashem you God shall you eat it in the place that Hashem you God has chosen” (Devarim 12:18) and others.

In light of this phrase, it seems the Sages learned in Midrash Raba (Bamidbar 7:4) a new law regarding crossing the Jordan:

There are ten levels of holiness- and the Land of Israel is holier than the rest of the world. What is its holiness? That the Omer and the Bikkurim and the Two Loaves are brought there, something not true of the rest of the world. The Land of Canaan is holier than the other side of the Jordan- the Land of Canaan is fit for a House for the Divine Presence while the other side of the Jordan isn’t fit for the House for the Divine Presence.

The entire Land of Israel is potentially fit for the building of the Beit HaMikdash, while the eastern bank of the Jordan isn’t.

This is what Gad and Reuven missed. The potential for building the Beit HaMikdash demonstrates the possibility of resting the Divine presence in the entirety of the Land of Israel. This possibility does not exist in the Eastern Bank of the Jordan. A potential place for the Beit HaMikdash has special power, even if in the end it is built in Jerusalem.

The people of Gad and Reuven miss out on this aspect, nevertheless, Moshe agrees to their proposal. Why? After the people of Gad and Reuven internalized the need for their focus on Hakadosh Baruch Hu, and to fight “before Hashem”, there is a different significance to their inheritance on the eastern bank of the Jordan. While it is not fit as a Divine resting place, it is nonetheless turned into an addition to the Land of Israel. A place like this has importance too, on the condition that they remember that the focus is on the Divine Presence.

We don’t all live in Jerusalem, which is today the heart of the Divine Presence. Unfortunately, not everyone lives in the Land of Israel yet. However, every Jew, in every place in the world,  can act out of a feeling of standing “before Hashem”. Even on foreign soil, we remember that the will of Hashem is key, and we dream and desire to come close to the Land of Israel, to the holiness of Jerusalem and to connecting to the Divine Presence.

We are in the days of mourning over the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash and over the departure of the Divine Presence. Out of the hurt and pain over the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash and through a deep desire to connect to the Divine Presence, may we merit, God willing, the building of the Beit HaMikdash and the return of the Divine Presence to Israel.