Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Lyadi (the first Rebbe of Chabad and the author of Tanya), known as the Alter Rebbe once said, we must leiben min hatzait – live with the time, i.e., with the current Torah portion.
The Torah portion we read this Shabbat – Mattos – talks about the tribes of Reuben and Gad who did not wish to cross Jordan (Yarden). They had a lot of cattle and seeing that the land of Sichon and Og was lush and suitable for cattle, they ask Moses for permission to build houses for their cattle, their children and wives in this land. They asked that this territory be given to them as a hereditary land instead of the portion of the land in Canaan on the other side of Jordan. Moses was furious with them. He accused them of repeating the mistake of the Spies who discouraged children of Israel from entering the Promised Land. The children of Reuben and Gad replied to Moshe:
“We will then arm ourselves quickly and go before the Israelites, until we have brought them to their place… Moses said to them, “If you do this thing, if you arm yourselves for battle before G‑d, and all your armed men cross the Jordan before G‑d until He has driven out His enemies before Him, and the land will be conquered before G‑d, afterwards you may return, and you shall be exonerated before G‑d and Israel, and this land will become your heritage before G‑d.”
Could Torah be more timely? I heard it talking to me. We, Jews of Diaspora, are concern more about our “cattle” (the euphemism for wealth) than for the Promised Land. We settled in America, Europe, Australia, where we saw the land was good for the “cattle” – the countries where we could make a living and leave in peace. But what about our brothers and sisters who live in our Promised Land, Israel, under the barrage of rockets fired on them daily by Hamas, who live under constant threat of terrorism, where the war is part of life?
It is high time we all ask ourselves the existential question that G‑d asked Adam who was hiding from G‑d in the Garden of Eden, “Ayeko?” – Where are you? Who are you? Where are you holding? Are we cowards like the Biblical spies that said, “We cannot conquer that land?” Are we going to hide together with our wives and children in the safe cities of Sichon and Og, of New York and Toronto, of Moscow and Melbourne? Or, like the children of Reuben and Gad we are going to go ahead of Army of Israelites leading them in battle until they settle the Promised Land in peace? Ayeko?!
The teachings of Chabad explain that the intention of the children of Reuben and Gad were good. They realized that the holiness of Israel must be spread beyond the borders of the Holy Land and volunteered to settle and elevate the adjacent lands. But they also realized that the elevation of lands outside of the Holy Land is only possible through a strong connection with the Holy Land itself. That is why they crossed Jordan with their brethren and fought the war of conquering the Land of Canaan from heathen nations.
The third Rebbe of Chabad, the Tzemach Tzedek, once said, “Mach do Eretz Yisrael!” – make the land of Israel here, i.e., elevate the land on which you live. But this is only possible through a strong connection with the real land of Israel – the Holy Land!
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