Matot/Mas'-ei for Tots

Matot - Mas'ei, Numbers 30:2–36:13

D'Var Torah By: Ellen and Peter Allard

"Then they stepped up to him (Moses) and said, 'We will build here sheepfolds for our flocks and towns for our children'

-Numbers 32:16

"Build towns for your children and sheepfolds for your flocks, but do what you have promised…"

-Numbers 32:24

Navigating through the world of commerce is one of the most important skill sets one can assume. A mature money consciousness can begin when one becomes an adult, since, in order to earn a living, most adults work. Most people in industrialized countries begin a lifetime of work as adults, doing something to make a living for themselves. Those with families eventually earn a living to support not only themselves, but their loved ones as well. The role of wage earner grows to become the role of provider which can be an important component of the role of parent.

It is not uncommon for parents to work long and hard hours to make the kind of income needed to support a growing brood. Can you fault a parent for directing focus and energy and time into a career, or vocation, particularly when it's for the good for his or her family? Certainly this kind of dedication and commitment is an important part of raising a family. It is how we, as parents, provide for our families. This hard work benefits greater society as well. This great dedication helps us move forward and creates a better future for us all.

In Parashat Matot-Mas'-ei (some years these two portions are read together), there is a lot of focus on building and community development. No doubt this type of commitment was felt by the leaders of the tribes of Reuven and Gad when they spoke to Moses: "Then they stepped up to him (Moses) and said, 'We will build here sheepfolds for our flocks and towns for our children' (Numbers 32:16).

However, it appears that Moses didn't care for the order of priorities demonstrated by these leaders. He subtly redirected their inclinations by reversing their stated intentions: "Build towns for your children and sheepfolds for your flocks, but do what you have promised…" (Numbers 32:24).

Two of the most important components of parenting include providing for our kids and spending time with them. Moses recognized that commerce is vital, but he clearly placed the children at the top of the list, before business. Any other jobs we have as parents are important and in fact, at any given time, other responsibilities can seem most vital. But once a person commits to raising a child, parenting becomes job number one. Commerce, and everything else, become job number two.

Certainly nobody likes to feel criticized or be told he or she is wrong. Being told we have fallen short in another's eyes can be hard to handle, and most often is not a real catalyst toward change. Being the wise leader he was, Moses demonstrated how to gently persuade others to reconsider their words or actions. (And in doing so, he helped underscore the importance of placing family before earning an income.)

Years ago, when our own children were young, we took a walk through a cemetery, seeking the gravestone of a relative too long left unvisited. After we found the stone and paid our respects, the youngest (8 years old at the time) noted that none of the gravestones described how much money these people earned or what colleges they attended, the size of their houses or any of their other achievements. He instead commented on the words engraved on many of the gravestones: "Beloved Mother, Beloved Father, Beloved Grandparent, etc." adding that who they were was much more important than what they had accomplished in their lives. Out of the mouths of babes!

Finding the correct balance of family and work is part of the task of parenthood, and achieving the balance is part of the reward of that hard work. Keeping things in proper perspective is essential, and gently guiding our young to better and more balanced lives is the best gift we can give them. We teach them best in our own doing, modeling for them the values, attitudes, goals and perspectives we hope they will adopt.

It is now your turn to build the future. By putting family first and commerce second, you will be adhering to centuries-old advice from one of our most beloved leaders. Your children will thank you for it, and your legacy will bear witness to the fruits of a life well spent!

Questions and Ideas for Parents:

  1. Do you find it difficult to balance work and family?
  2. When it comes to the rearing of children, is there a mentor in your life whose guidance you respect and rely upon?

Questions for Children:

  1. What are some of the things you like to do when your family is all together?
  2. What kinds of jobs do you have at home or in your classroom? Why do you think it is important for people to do their jobs?
Reference Materials

Pages 1100-1128 in The Torah: A Modern Commentary Revised Edition, by W. Gunther Plaut.

Originally published: