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Shabbat Parashat Matot 5782

Parashat Hashavua: Speak Properly and Back it Up with Actions

Harav Shaul Yisraeli from Siach Shaul p. 458-459 (an address from 1948)

In their negotiations with Moshe, the tribes of Reuven and Gad offered to “build pens for our flock here and cities for our children” (Bamidbar 32:16). Moshe answered that they should “build for yourselves cities for your children and pens for your flock, and that which comes out of your mouths you shall do” (ibid. 24).

It is surprising that Moshe got angry at the tribes even before hearing their whole plan, when it turned out that they apparently intended to join their brothers in battle after all. Let us suggest that before Moshe heard the rest of their proposal, he was sure they would not come over the Jordan to fight because he knew that they were blessed with many children and those children needed to be educated. The Torah commands: “You shall teach [these words] to your children” (Devarim 6:7). How could they leave them for such a long time?

The tribes answered Moshe that they had not thought in those terms, as we see from their response. After all, they spoke first about building pens for their flock and only afterward cities for their children. While Moshe accepted the basic proposal, he corrected them about the order of the pens and the cities.

Moshe continued to explain that they should take his correction seriously and not claim that the order of how you do things does not make a difference. “That which comes out of your mouths you shall do.” In other words, just the fact that you said these words is impactful, and it is impossible to know how impactful something said in passing can be.

Later in the parasha, the Torah records cities that Bnei Yisrael captured and mentions that some of them had their names changed (Bamidbar 32:38), moving on from names that were connected to idolatry (Rashi ad loc.). When Bnei Yisrael received their portions in the Land, they knew that they were not coming to continue the legacy of the Emorites and other predecessors in the Land. They wanted to give expression to the new style of life that would prevail there, the Israelite lifestyle. They knew that they represented the Name of Hashem, and therefore they changed the names of the cities. However, it was also not enough to change the names; they also had to change the content. Only when the actions proved that the names given were being put into action, was the change significant.

Let us apply the lessons in our day. We have merited to see the names of locations changed. Those cities and villages that had Arab communities, and now are full of Jews who have come from the north and the south, have new and changed names … However, this is not enough. It is important that we fulfill “do not nullify your words” (Bamidbar 30:3). We must justify the names to which we changed the places and make sure that our daily activities are in consonance with the names.


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