“The descendants of Reuben and Gad had an abundance of livestock very numerous and they saw the land of Jazer and the land of Gilead, and behold, the place was a place for livestock.”
In this week’s parsha, Matot, the descendents of Reuven and Gad request that their allotted portion be the good grazing land on the east side of the Jordan, just outside the land promised to B’nei Yisrael.
Moshe is angered and compares their request to the behavior of the spies, as discouraging B’nei Yisrael from crossing over into the land promised to them.
The response of the descendants of Reuven and Gad is: “”We will build sheepfolds for our livestock here and cities for our children. We will then arm ourselves quickly [and go] before the children of Israel until we have brought them to their place. Our children will reside in the fortified cities on account of the inhabitants of the land. We shall not return to our homes until each of the children of Israel has taken possession of his inheritance. For we will not inherit with them on the other side of the Jordan and beyond, because our inheritance has come to us on the east bank of the Jordan.”
Moshe’s response is that, if they conquer the land of Israel, first arming themselves for battle before Hashem, then they would be freed from their obligation to enter the land of Israel with the rest of B’nei Yisrael and they could have the land they requested as their inheritance. “So build yourselves cities for your children and enclosures for your sheep,” Moshe tells them, “and what has proceeded from your mouth you shall do.”
Chazal observe that the sons of Gad and Reuven first state that they are going to build sheepfolds, and then mention fortified cities for their children. Moshe, by contrast, mentions the children first, the sheep second. This is taken to be a chastisement by Moshe for the skewed priorities of Gad and Reuven, who put maintaining their material wealth in livestock above the spiritual well-being of their children, which would have been best served by entering Eretz Yisrael. Picking up this criticism, the sons of Gad and Reuven respond that they will do as they have been commanded, referencing in changed order “our children, our wives, our herds and all our livestock.”
In the end, prioritizing material over spiritual wealth harmed Gad and Reuven, for, as Chazal also point out, they were the first to be sent into galus by the Assyrians. (for more about this, see here, here, and here) (Although it has been suggested that there might have been a less base motivation. Possibly they were hoping to reverse Hashem’s vow that Moshe not enter the land of Israel by extending the land to encompass territory that Moshe was allowed to enter, which ties together another theme of the parsha, the laws of annulling vows. Another interesting possibility is that they correctly perceived that their divinely ordained mission was to tend to sheep in a land best suited for it, and that was the reason that Moshe so readily acceded to their request.)
It has been observed that the theme of galus, relevant to the Three Weeks, and this week’s haftorah from Yirmiyahu, can be seen in the name of the parsha, Matot, which means tribes in this context, but also means sticks (as in Parshat Chukat, where Moshe hit the rock with his mateh, or in Parshat Korach, where Aaron’s mateh bloomed like an almond branch).
Sometimes tribes are called shevatim, which also means supple branch (still attached to the tree); sometimes they are called matot, which means hard stick, cut off from the tree. (for elaboration, see here, here and here).
In this week’s haftorah, Yirmiyahu’s first prophetic vision is of a rod of an almond tree, a makeil sheked, which symbolizes the imminent destruction facing the Jews (sheked/almond, shukad/hurrying)and which makes an interesting parallel to Aaron’s mateh. According to Rashi, the 21 day blossoming cycle of the almond matches the time period between the 17th of Tamuz and the 9th of Av. (I don’t the difference between makeil and mateh . . . does anyone else?)
For this parsha, I made little sheep out of marshmallows and melted white and dark chocolate. At first, I tried to stick the marshmallows to a pretzel, but, in the end, I found that the easiest way to make marshmallow sheep is as follows:
melted white chocolate
melted dark chocolate
Roll the marshmallows around in the melted white chocolate and form little clumps. Place the clumps on waxed paper to harden. For each clump, which is the sheep’s body, you will need a sheep face, made out of a marshmallow dipped in dark chocolate. Dip a sufficient amount of marshmallows in dark chocolate, let them set up a bit until almost hard but still a bit tacky and then stick them on the sheep bodies in a spot that looks like the place for the head. I tried using the dark chocolate marshmallows for sheep legs, but, frankly, it just isn’t worth the extra trouble.
Alternate version: use a piece of ladyfinger cookie as the head and another piece as the body. Attach mini marshmallows to the body and cut a miniature marshmallow in half diagonally to make the ears. You can use marshmallow fluff and grated coconut decoratively, as well. For eyes, cut the mini marshmallow in half to make two thin circles. Add a drop of chocolate (or miniature chocolate chip) to the center for the pupils.
Note: I didn’t think to google marshmallow sheep before doing this. It turns out that there are other, better ways to make marshmallow sheep, if you are prepared to work a little harder (see here, for example or here).