Moses had been the consummate conciliator for the past 40 years. From the sin of the Golden Calf when he appeased G-d and throughout the many ordeals during the 40-year desert sojourn, he is constantly an advocate for the wishes of his nation. This week, however, Moses reacts totally different to what appears to be a simple requisition.
The children of Gad and Reuven come to Moses with a simple request. They are shepherds and do not want to cross the Jordan River into the Land of Canaan. They claim that the land on the east bank of the river is better for grazing. Before they even get a chance to fully present their request, Moses releases a virtual tirade at them. For eleven verses, more than any single rebuke in the entire Torah, Moses chastises them. He says that their request is subversive and will dissuade others from crossing the Jordan. He relives the fateful episode of the spies and their slander of the Land of Israel. He recounts G-d’s wrath and details the suffering of Israel because of that sin. He compares the representatives who requested to remain to the Spies, and claims that Gad and Reuven have risen in their place to add more burning wrath of G-d against Israel (Numbers 32:6-16)
It is extremely difficult to comprehend why Moses, normally so conciliatory, patient, and understanding, even during the most difficult times, became so sharply incensed at this request. Moses’s actions are always a lesson to all of us, but what lesson can we learn here? The following story suggests a possible answer.
Gary was driving to the Catskills on Friday afternoon so that he would make it in time for Shabbos. However, he left his office in Manhattan very late and was dismayed to find that traffic on the George Washington Bridge was at a complete standstill. When it finally cleared up, only one lane was open and the bumper to bumper traffic was moving at a painfully slow pace. He looked at his watch and realized that there was no way he was going to make it-in fact, the sun was about to set, which meant that Shabbos was just minutes away. He had never in his life desecrated Shabbos and he was not planning on doing it now. In a panic, he pulled his car as close as he could to the guard rail, left the keys on the visor, removed his wallet and hid it together with his personal effects and figured that at worst, the car would be stolen but perhaps the police would get to it first and tow it. Whatever expenses might be incurred, it was a small price to pay for his commitment to Shabbos.
Feeling a little guilty about adding to the traffic delays on the bridge, he left his car flashers blinking, and walked back toward New York City where he had a friend who lived in nearby Washington Heights; he would spend Shabbos there.
Saturday night he returned to the bridge and his car was not there. He went straight to the local police precinct and asked the desk officer if anyone had seen his gray Avalon that was on the George Washington Bridge on Friday night.
The officer’s eyes widened. “You mean the car with the keys on the visor?”
“Hey, sergeant, we found the guy!” By now a few officers moved closer to Gary.
The sergeant raised his voice. “You mean the Avalon with the flashers on?”
“You mean the Avalon with the wallet with cash and credit cards left under the front seat!” he shouted. “Was that your car!?” Gary shook his head meekly. “Yes, sergeant, that’s my car. Where is it?”
“Where is it??” mocked the officer, “Where is it? Do you know how many divers have been looking for your body in the Hudson!?”
Gary felt awful and realized that he was inconsiderate. He could have called the police, stopped one of the slow-moving cars trapped in bumper to bumper traffic, or at least leave a note. His thoughtlessness was the cause of much unnecessary anxiety to many people.
Moses understood that the worst of all sins is not what one does privately in his heart or in his home but rather when his actions affect the spirit of others. Often, one’s self-interest blurs any thought of how his or her conduct will affect others. The children of Gad and Reuven had a personal issue. They did not want to cross the Jordan River because they wanted to graze in greener pastures. Yet they did not consider what effect their request might have on an entire nation. They did not take into account the severe ramifications their actions may have on the morale of hundreds of thousands of enthusiastic people wanting to enter the Holy Land.
Think for a moment, in your life, at home and work, not everything that you do, say or act upon may be interpreted with the intent that motivated your action. Sometimes those misinterpretation can have devastating effects on morale, attitude or hurt people’s feelings. We may refuse to cross a river for a matter of convenience. Others, however, may see it as a calamity. Our job is to be conscious that everything we do affects not only ourselves, but is a bridge to many other people.
(Source: Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky)