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July 8, 2021

The Harvard of All Countries (Matos/Masei)

Bob and Tom were best of friends. They did everything together. Whether it was elementary school, middle school, or high school, Bob and Tom always made sure that they were in the same class. When it became time to apply to colleges, both Bob and Tom decided that they really wanted to go to Harvard, the top school in the country.

As it turned out, Bob got accepted, but Tom did not, and as you can imagine, Tom was filled with mixed emotions. A few days after Bob received his acceptance later, he called up his buddy Tom and said, “Hey Tom! Guess what? I decided that I am not going to go to Harvard even though I got in. I am going to the community college instead!”

Tom was utterly shocked, “Bob? Are you nuts? Are you crazy? Do you understand what it means that you got accepted to the top school in the entire country, and you are just going to throw that all away? How could you do something like that? My dream is to go to Harvard. I would trade everything in the world to step foot there.”

Now take your mind off of Bob, Tom, and Harvard, and substitute those names for Gad, Reuvein, Moshe Rabbeinu, and Eretz Yisrael.

The tribes of Gad and Reuven (and part of Menashe) approached Moshe Rabbeinu and said (32:5), אַל־תַּעֲבִרֵ֖נוּ אֶת־הַיַּרְדֵּֽן – “Do not bring us across the Jordan.” With a straight face they asked Moshe Rabbeinu if instead of residing in the holy land of Eretz Yisrael, they can reside right outside of Eretz Yisrael, since the land would be more fitting for their large number of livestock.

For a moment, put yourself in the shoes of Moshe Rabbeinu.

Moshe Rabbeinu had a dream, a vision, and a deep desire for so long to go into the holy land of Eretz Yisrael. But unfortunately, Hashem did not “accept” him. Hashem did not allow Moshe Rabbeinu entry into the land.

And then, comes along Gad and Reuvein – who have complete access into the land – and they say, “Nah! We would rather dwell outside of Eretz Yisrael.” Could you begin to imagine the pain that Moshe Rabbeinu must have felt? Could you begin to imagine how hurt Moshe Rabbeinu must have been?

But what does Moshe Rabbeinu do? How does a true Jewish leader react to a situation like this? The very next verse in the Torah (32:6) says: וַיֹּ֣אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֔ה לִבְנֵי־גָ֖ד וְלִבְנֵ֣י רְאוּבֵ֑ן הַאַֽחֵיכֶ֗ם יָבֹ֙אוּ֙ לַמִּלְחָמָ֔ה וְאַתֶּ֖ם תֵּ֥שְׁבוּ פֹֽה – “Moshe said to the children of Gad and the children of Reuvein, ‘Shall your brothers go out to battle while you settle here?’”

There was not even an iota of personal ego that was projected from Moshe Rabbeinu onto them. For Moshe Rabbeinu, the issue was not an inward personalistic feeling of negativity, but rather, it was an outward – more global – issue of the greater good of כלל ישראל. Moshe Rabbeinu was not thinking about himself; he was thinking about the rest of the Jewish people. He was thinking how the decision of Gad and Reuvein to remain outside of Eretz Yisrael would potentially hurt the Jewish people’s chance of conquering the land.

A true leader thinks outwardly, not inwardly. A true leader thinks about others, not just himself.

Moshe Rabbeinu is a paragon of what a true leader is. May we learn from his ways and become leaders in our own lives.