Topic: Personal Transformation | Posted:July 27, 2016
From even before the time the Israelites were in Egypt, they were told by Moses that they were going to be taken through the desert and into the Land of Israel. Of course, they fell, and for 40 years were traveling in the desert.
When they all got to the border, the eastern side of the Jordan River, two and a half tribes – the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Menasha – came to Moses and said they wanted to stay there. Moses told them they could stay there as long as they left their wives and children on that side of the Jordan River, conquered the land west of it (the true Land of Israel), and also assisted the other nine and a half tribes in the conquering.
The two and a half tribes agreed to the request and went with the Israelites into the Land of Israel. And those of us who have not gone on to read the Book of Joshua might not know what happened afterwards: Moses left this world, Joshua took leadership, and the older males from the tribe of Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Menasha traveled with the rest of the Israelites into the Land of Israel to conquer it. But then what happens?
There is a section in the Midrash which says three of the sages traveled to study with Rav Shimon bar Yochai. Before they left Rav Shimon bar Yochai, they asked him if they had his permission to leave, because you are supposed to ask permission from your teacher before you leave. He tells them they can go, but for whatever reason they stayed there one extra day, and then discussed amongst themselves if they had to ask Rav Shimon bar Yochai again for permission to leave.
To answer this question of if they had to ask his permission again, one of the sages quotes a verse from the Book of Joshua, which says that the two and a half tribes who remained and went with the Israelites did not go back to their homes for fourteen years. After seven years of battle and seven years of dividing up the Land, Joshua sends these tens of thousands of men who have not seen their families for fourteen years away, and gives them a blessing. Then they go to their tents. This verse where Joshua sends them to their tents and gives them a blessing gets repeated, so the sages are asking why this verse is repeated.
After they conquered the Land of Israel and divided it up, they went to Joshua and told him their commitment was to conquer the Land, which they did. They even stayed an extra seven years while Joshua split up the Land. They asked permission to go back to their homes, and Joshua said, “Certainly, go back, I give you a blessing.” But for whatever reason, a few days went by and they hadn’t left, so they went back to Joshua again for permission to leave. Again he said yes, and gave them a blessing.
Can you imagine that any of us would ask permission to leave after we had finished something we committed to for fourteen years? Their commitment is done, so why are they even asking Joshua? But not only do they ask once, because it took them an extra day or two, they go and ask for permission again.
And there is more. Rav Yehuda, in the Midrash, said that the tribes of Reuben and Gad took it upon themselves to be the protectors of Joshua and were the ones to travel with him all the time, while the other tribes traveled on their own. So, it says that as the tribe of Reuben and Gad were almost home, they looked back and saw that Joshua was now all alone, and they ran back to him and walked with him to his house, and then they left. The Midrash says the blessing that they received this second time when they went back with Joshua was much greater than the first; it says that he blessed them with double of everything that they had.
It’s an interesting story, but there is a deep lesson here. We need to ask ourselves a singular question: Is the desire to do what the Creator wants us to do and what we came to this world to do overriding everything else in our lives?
The two and a half tribes wanted to be sure. They knew their personal desire was clear: they missed their families and wanted to go home. But it made no difference to them; they stayed the extra seven years and asked permission to leave again, because they wanted to be 100% sure. They were asking Joshua to ask the Creator if there was any more work for them to do.
We would not be asking. We would be running away as quickly as possible for fear that maybe the Creator would tell Joshua, “No, there is one more thing they need to do.” But they asked not once, but twice, and then they saw there was another opportunity to share with Joshua and ran back and followed him to his tent. These actions are only possible if the overriding consciousness of our lives is, “I just want to do what the Creator wants me to do.” However, that is not the overriding consciousness in most of our lives. The overriding consciousness in most of our lives is, “Yes, I want to do the spiritual work, but I don’t want it to be too difficult. Just make sure it fits within whatever framework is comfortable for me.” But one can never achieve the purpose for which he came to this world while that is still his consciousness.
Whenever we go through anything difficult or uncomfortable, we run away from it as quickly as we can. We are not waiting for anybody’s permission. If there is an opening to get out of it, we get out. Because, if we are honest with ourselves, the overriding consciousness of our lives is about what is comfortable for us; even in our spiritual work, even when we are pushing ourselves, it’s only to a certain point. None of us would ever think to do what the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half tribe of Menasha did, who did what they did because the only thing that mattered to them was that they were accomplishing what the Creator wanted them to accomplish.
Every day when something gets a little bit uncomfortable, we tend run away from it. But now when that happens, instead think for a minute that maybe the Creator actually wants you to stay in that discomfort for one more minute. Next time you are in a difficult situation, see if the first thought you have is not, “How do I get out of it,” but rather, “What does the Creator want me to do? Does He want me to stay in it? Because all I really want is what the Creator wants.”
It’s a great gift that the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Menasha give us on this Shabbat: a shift in our thought about our lives. First, to really be honest with ourselves about where our consciousness lies - is it about what is comfortable for us and what we want, or is it about what the Creator wants, even if it’s tremendously uncomfortable? There is no way we will come to accomplish what our soul came to this world to accomplish unless we shift that. We are not meant to go to that level right away, and are not even close to being there right now, but if we desire it and beg for it on this Shabbat, can we begin achieving what the two and a half tribes achieved.