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Matos: Priorities And Price Tags

From Where I Stand

By Rabbi Yossy Goldman

Is it the money or the man, the cash or the kids? What is most important in our lives? No one ever admits to putting money ahead of their children, but is it not an all-too-common phenomenon? Aren’t most parents, even good parents, guilty of making that mistake now and then?

In this week’s parashah, the Jewish People are preparing for the conquest of Canaan. In anticipation of entering the Promised Land, the tribes of Reuvein and Gad make a special request of Moshe.

They had abundant herds of livestock, and the land east of the Jordan River was especially fertile and suitable for grazing. They asked Moshe if they could inherit this land rather than the land west of the Jordan. In making this request, they expressed themselves thus: “Pens for the flock shall we build here for our livestock and cities for our small children.” Immediately, Moshe chastises them and corrects their mistake. “Build for yourselves cities for your small children and pens for your flock.” Moshe turns around their sequence, putting the children ahead of the animals.

Rashi observes that those tribes appeared to be more concerned about their money—livestock—than they were about their sons and daughters. Moshe needed to give them a lesson in values and priorities. Put family first. Possessions come later.

The veteran American spiritual leader, the late Rabbi David Hollander, was renowned for always finding an appropriate anecdote to fit the message. Concerning this parashah, he once told me the story of a fellow who somehow managed to get himself locked inside a big department store after it closed for the day. To compound the problem, it was over a vacation weekend. As it was before cellphones were invented, all his attempts to get out proved futile. So he decided to give vent to his frustrations by taking revenge on the store management. He spent the time of his incarceration swapping price tags on the merchandise. The result? A mink coat was now priced at $29.99, a necktie at $999. Furniture was going for the price of peanuts, the latest hi-fi for a song, and a set of underwear was absolutely unaffordable! Imagine the chaos when the store reopened.

The question is, are our own price tags correctly marked? Do we value the things in our own lives correctly? Are our priorities in order? Or do we, too, put the cattle and the sheep—the car and the office—ahead of our children? How many workaholic husbands have told their wives, “Honey, I’m doing it all for you and the kids?” But the businesses we are busy building for them actually take us away from them in the most important and formative years of their lives. Rightly has it been said, “The best thing you can spend on your kids is not money but time.” I’ve seen many people become “successes” over the years. They achieve professional success, career success, business success, growing their fame and fortunes. Too many in the process have become family failures. At the end of the day, our deepest satisfaction in life comes not from our professional achievements but from our family—the growth, stability, and togetherness that we have nurtured over the years—what our Jewish parents and grandparents simply called nachas.

“Jewish wealth is not measured in property portfolios or stocks and bonds” (to paraphrase a holy rabbi of yesteryear). True Jewish wealth is being blessed with children who walk in the ways of G-d. For that, we need to be there for them and with them.

I once spoke about this idea in shul on Shabbos, and after the service a congregant walked up to me and proclaimed, “Rabbi, I am a millionaire!” I knew the man to be of modest financial means but he immediately explained, “I’m a millionaire in nachas!” I wish it upon you. v

Rabbi Yossy Goldman was born in Brooklyn and was sent in 1976 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe as an emissary to serve the Jewish community of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is Senior Rabbi of the Sydenham Shul and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. His sefer “From Where I Stand: Life Messages from the Weekly Torah Reading” was published by Ktav and is available at Jewish book shops or online at

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Posted by on July 17, 2014. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.