Upon reaching the entrance of Eretz Yisrael, the tribes of Gad and Reuven make a startling request: ‘We’d rather not’. Moshe instinctively denies -even lashes out at- their request. As they explained, Gad and Reuven wanted the fertile land of the Trans-Jordan for the sake of their livestock, and so they preferred to stay there. After clarification, they made a deal with Moshe that they would help conquer the land of Israel, and only then return to their families and cattle on the other side of the river.
But this conversation includes one fundamental nuance. At first, Gad and Reuven asked to “build enclosures for our livestock here and cities for our children” (32:16). When Moshe acquiesces, however, he changes one small thing: “build yourselves cities for your children and enclosures for your sheep” (32:24). One could claim that the issue at hand was Gad and Reuven’s focus on materialism, wealth, worldly desires. And yet, Moshe’s response did not prohibit them from engaging in business. Both the livestock and the children were important concerns, but, as Rashi states, they had to make the primary- primary and the secondary- secondary”.
If we extend Rashi’s idea it becomes even more relevant. We all appreciate the necessity of supporting ourselves. We accept -even sacrifice for- our jobs, despite the toll it takes on family life. The danger, however, lies in allowing that commitment to dictate our values. Our instinct is to say that what we work for most is what matters most- and practically, many of us work long hours for our jobs, relative to our free time. What Moshe was trying to instill in Gad and Reuven, was to appreciate that even major life choices -relocation or the like- should not transform the means into an end of itself.
We engage in the exchange of goods and services for the sake of our values, and despite the sacrifices to make a living, that does not -and cannot- define our life. As Gad and Reuven learned, you can care for your livestock, but first take stock of what’s more important.