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Getting Our Priorities Right

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

Upon viewing the luscious cattle feeding land on the East of the Jordan River, the tribes of Reuven and Gad approach Moses for permission to permanently settle there. Moses agrees on the condition that Reuven and Gad spearhead the military conquest of the Land of Israel on the west of the Jordan River. Approaching Moses, they declare: ‘Let us build enclosures for our cattle and cities for our children, and we will zealously go (to war) to the frontline ahead of the Sons of Israel…’ Moses responds in the affirmative: ‘Build cities for your children and enclosures for your cattle…’ The tribes of Reuven and Gad mentioned enclosures for their cattle before mentioning cities for their children. Our sages ask: Why did Moses invert the order of what was originally said?

Our Sages point out that Moses was effectively rebuking them for having skewed priorities. They valued their material possessions more than their sons and daughters. Moses rebuked them and instructed them to get their priorities straight. This sounds horrific, people who care more about their possessions than their own offspring? As horrific as it sounds, I believe that most of us are guilty of the same skewed priorities. It is a trap that ensnares most of humanity.

The work demands of our modern society are many – the cost of living is high and the pressure to keep up with the Joneses is intense. Our society values and respects material wealth and luxury as the ultimate ideal. The cost of private Jewish education is a heavy burden for many families to carry. The struggle the tribes of Reuven and Gad had with their priorities is real and acute. There are difficult priority questions we are constantly faced with”: ‘Am I getting so lost and consumed in my work activities that I am neglecting my family and their needs?’ ‘Do I sacrifice amassing material security at the cost of my children’s education?’ An honest reflection on the above reminds us that, like the tribes of Reuven and Gad, we too need regular priority checks. It is certainly not as easy at it seems.

Friends, let us shift our focus from a world focused on material gain to investing our resources and energies in our sons and daughters, our future.