June 14, 2024
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June 14, 2024
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Dealing With Disappointment

It’s one of the most underrated interactions in the entire Torah—but to truly understand the emotions behind it, we need the entire picture.

The fundamental mission with which Moshe was entrusted was to take Am Yisrael out of Egypt and lead them into their birthright, Eretz Yisrael. They were to enter a land flowing with milk and honey and make it their own. Throughout their wanderings in the desert, Hashem and Moshe consistently rally the nation with the promise of their dramatic journey to the Promised Land—the destiny of both the nation and their extraordinary leader.

During year 40 in the desert, Moshe sins, resulting in God’s decree that he cannot enter Eretz Yisrael. We can only imagine the deep disappointment that Moshe must have felt. This despair is highlighted in the beginning of Parshat Va’etchanan, as Moshe begs God to just step foot in the land—a request that God denies. Ultimately, Moshe is forced to accept his new reality—and to realize that his legacy won’t be defined solely by what he personally accomplishes but by the continued accomplishments of the nation as well. Leading Am Yisrael to the edge of the land, and enabling their entry, will also serve as incredible testaments to his legacy.

With that background, we can now understand the conversation between Moshe and the tribes of Reuven, Gad and Menashe in this week’s parsha. The tribes request to remain on the other side of the Jordan, land recently conquered from Sichon and Bashan, rather than receive their portion within Eretz Yisrael. The Torah even explains that these tribes possessed abundant cattle, and the land they requested was particularly spacious and lush.

While the tribes’ request might seem relatively fair, given our background knowledge we can imagine how Moshe must have felt at their proposal. He, whose sole remaining wish is to step foot into the Promised Land, approached by those who are given what he can only wish for, requesting to give it up!? The irony of their request, davka to Moshe Rabbeinu and specifically at this time, cannot be overstated. We can almost feel the maddening frustration burning up inside Moshe, expecting him to shout, “Are you guys crazy?! I’d do anything to have the opportunity that you are flippantly dismissing!! Do you know the mistake you’re making?”

And yet, Moshe’s actual response to their request is instructive and enlightening. Rather than allowing his emotions to overcome him and criticize them, he answers in an insightful and educationally powerful way.

Firstly, he responds with logic, not emotion. He argues against their request from a practical perspective, not an emotional one. Number one, he questions the fairness of their not joining their brothers in conquering Eretz Yisrael. Number two, he reminds the tribes of the nation’s refusal to enter the land 39 years ago, and the resulting disastrous punishment. He argues that their request could result in a similar sin and punishment—with equally disastrous results.

Once the tribes respond to these objections, Moshe recognizes their determination, realizing that he won’t be able to change their mind. He then pivots to turn their attention to the values that will be essential to their success. As Rashi notes: In their initial proposal, the three tribes prioritize their cattle before their children, and when Moshe responds, he deliberately switches the order, stressing the children before the cattle—thus teaching them a critical lesson regarding priorities. Yet the way he does it is as instructive as the lesson itself. Rather than deriding them for their misguided priorities, he subtly teaches them proper perspective in a constructive way. Moshe understands that to influence the tribes’ actions, his words need to come from a place of love and concern, not criticism. Ultimately, Moshe navigates this encounter brilliantly, successfully ensuring that the events unfold in a most productive way.

As parents, we have many hopes for our children, and opinions as to how their lives should unfold. What happens, however, when a child makes decisions that run counter to those hopes? What if we believe that he/she is making a mistake? Our natural reaction may be to respond emotionally, frustrated that our child feels differently than us. Moshe’s thoughtful response, however, serves as an important model, guiding our response to these situations. As Moshe did, we must ultimately recognize each child’s prerogative to their own thoughts and value system. While we have the right to be disappointed—as we can imagine Moshe was at the tribes’ request—we must consider what reaction will be most productive. Rather than responding emotionally, we should try to discuss things rationally. We should explain why we feel they are making a mistake, and how our life experiences might help inform their situation. And…if ultimately they choose to continue their chosen path, our role then is to be supportive and helpful, while trying to gently influence their path in the most productive way possible.

All parents deal with disappointments regarding their children at some point—just as all leaders inevitably experience disappointment regarding those whom they lead at some point. The masterful way that Moshe navigates a potentially emotionally charged situation with the tribes of Reuven, Gad and Menashe serves as a wonderful model for us to learn from, as we deal with similar situations in our lives, as well.

Shabbat Shalom!


Rav Yossi Goldin is a teacher and administrator who teaches in a number of seminaries and yeshivot across Israel. He currently lives in Shaalvim with his wife and family. He can be reached at [email protected].

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