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Rabbo Doniel Staum - Parshas Matos-Masei 5775 "Priorities!"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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John D Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil, gave a groundskeeper a five dollar holiday bonus. Then, when the man took the holiday off to spend it with his family, Rockefeller docked the five dollars from the man’s pay.

Mr. Walt Disney would time his employees’ trips to the candy and sodas machines during work and detract it from their wages.

Ty Cobb, the famous baseball player, was also an early investor in Coca-Cola stock. He would collect bars of soap from locker rooms and hotel shower rooms, and would send them back to his Georgia farm.

Clark Gable, noted movie star, would often argue with his grocer about the price of jelly beans.

At the time of his death, the affluent and erratic Howard Hughes left behind 1.56 billion dollars. Shortly before his death, he is purported to have stated that, “During the last thirty years I have never woken up happy!”

“How you make your living is very different from how you make your life!”

The Torah relates that the tribes of Reuven and Gad approached Moshe and requested the lands of trans-Jordan as their inheritance, and not cross into the land proper[1]. “The children of Reuven and the children of Gad had abundant livestock – very great. They saw the land of Yazer and the land of Gilead, and behold! The place was a place for livestock.[2]” At first Moshe was extremely chagrined by their request. He feared their request would cause the rest of the nation to become disheartened and they would lose their zeal for the imminent battles against the Canaanites.

The tribes of Reuven and Gad countered that Moshe had misunderstood their request. They were not spurning the Land, and had no intention of shirking their responsibility to fight alongside their brethren. They only wanted to receive those abundant lands as their portion.

Rashi notes that when the tribes of Gad and Reuven clarified and reiterated their request they made a tragic error. “They approached him and said, ‘Pens for the flock shall we build here for our livestock and cities for our small children’.” The wording they used revealed a deep shortcoming in their priorities. They first mentioned their intent to build pens for their livestock before mentioning that they would construct homes for their families. In other words, they mentioned their money before their children!

Moshe immediately perceived their mistaken priorities and, when he mentioned his reluctant acquiescence to their request he replied[3], “Build for yourselves cities for your small children and pens for your flock;” first for your children and only then for your possessions.

When a male baby who is his mother’s first conception becomes one month old, his father must redeem him by giving five silver shekels to a kohain. The ceremony, known as Pidyon Haben, is a joyous occasion and is followed by a festive meal.

The ceremony begins with the father declaring that the baby is his firstborn son and that he is obligated to redeem him. The Kohain then asks, “Which do you prefer: to give away your firstborn son, who is the first issue of his mother’s womb, or do you prefer to redeem him for five shekels as you are required to do by the Torah?” The father replies: “I wish to redeem my son. I present you with the cost of his redemption as I am required to do by the Torah.”

The whole conversation seems ludicrous. Why does the Koahin even bother to ask what the father would rather do? Is there any person so callous as to even entertain the notion of not redeeming his son to save some money? Why does the father not simply declare that he wishes to redeem his son as instructed by the Torah?

The answer is that the new baby has transformed a young man into a father. When a person becomes a father for the first time he often pledges in his mind that he will be the greatest father for his child. He will read to his child, sing to his child, play ball with his child, and learn with his child.

Sadly enough, many of those grand plans never come to fruition. The hassles and demands of life set in and those idyllic pledges are placed on the back-burner. After-all, business is business and one cannot live without money and the wherewithal to provide for his family. It is not that spending time with one’s son is no longer de rigueur; it’s just that the pressure of paying bills and financial obligations seem more immediately pressing.

If one would ask any logical person whether money or family is more important, we can be certain that he would hastily answer that there is nothing more valuable than the time one spends with his family. Yet[4]פוק חזי" – go out and see” what occurs on a daily basis. People sell out their progeny, their most valuable treasures in the world, for transient nebulous commodities that are ultimately left behind.

Therefore, at his child’s ‘redemption’ the father must verbalize his values. It is not enough that he knows it to be true, at this critical juncture when he has just entered fatherhood he must express it outright for one and all to hear. The Koahin asks him what he would rather- money or child, and the father emphatically announces that he wishes to redeem his son.

Those words must perpetually remain with the father. He must never forget his value system; family must always be prioritized, and money must always be a distant second.

After Avrohom Avinu vanquished the four mighty armies led by Nimrod in order to save his captured nephew Lot, the king of Sodom made a proposition to Avrohom: “[5]Give me the people, and take the possessions for yourself.” Avrohom immediately replied that he would not take a thing. “I lift my hand to Hashem, G-d, the Most High, Maker of heaven and earth, if so much as a thread to a shoe-strap… So you shall not say, ‘It is I who made Avrom[6] rich’.”

My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, explained that it was because of the king of Sodom’s proposition that Avrohom refused to accept any of the spoils which were rightfully due to him. Once the king offered the spoils of war in exchange for the people, Avrohom refused to have any part of those spoils. “Let it not be said that Avrohom became rich because he sold out the people.” Avrohom was an extremely wealthy and influential individual. But in becoming the Patriarch of Klal Yisroel he would never allow one cent to take priority over his family or any person.

One of the greatest messages that Avrohom espoused throughout his life was that money is worthless when measured against human life and spirit!

This lesson is always reiterated during the Three Weeks of mourning. A Jew must always remember his value system and his priorities. All the money in the world will not be sufficient to rebuild the long-awaited third eternal Bais Hamikdash. But loving and prioritizing others, specifically our children will definitely bring us closer!

“Pens for the flock and cities for our small children”

“Which do you prefer: your firstborn son, or to redeem him?”

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[1] In 1948 when the UN was drawing up its partition plan for the new state of Israel, hardliners such as Menachem Begin insisted that the Jews receive the entire country, including trans-Jordan (the modern day country of Jordan). It was based on the fact that the inheritance of two and a half tribes was in trans-Jordan.

[2] 32:1

[3] 32:24

[4] in the vernacular of the Talmud

[5] Bereishis 14:21

[6] At that point, his name was still Avrom, and had not yet been changed to Avrohom.

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