On Tuesday, July 11, Shira Smiles gave a shiur titled “Where Are Your Priorities” at the OU Israel Center. She began by sharing that the tribes of Reuven, Gad, and half of Menashe settled on the other side of the Jordan. They asked for permission to settle on the eastern side of the Jordan River, and to build pens for their flocks and huts for their children. The Midrash says that Reuven and Gad mentioned their sheep before their children. In Melachim Beis, it states that these three tribes were put into exile earlier than the others because they took their inheritance early and they were likewise punished for their priorities.

She posed the question of why they are held accountable for referring to their sheep before their children. In Parshas V’Zos HaBrachah, it says that Gad took his inheritance because he wanted to be connected to the hand of Moshe. This is seen as positive, but they jumped the line and took inheritance ahead. So, she asked whether it was positive or negative that they wanted to live there?

Asking for their sheep before their children, she said, was a slip of the tongue. She explained that there are repercussions for a slip of the tongue. When a parent is not careful about a mitzvah, then when his child grows up that child will take on that mitzvah and recalibrate. That child will realize it’s important. However, this is not true in terms of hashkafah. A child imbibes his parents’ hashkafah – their values. This is more subtle than a halachah. The values or hashkafah of the parent become part of the child and that is harder to change.

When Reuven and Gad put their sheep or monetary considerations first, that value was passed on to their children and future generations. So that is why they were exiled first, because they made a left turn in their avodas Hashem. The great-grandfather, Reuven, went out in the harvest to look for duda’im. The fact that he went to look for something shows he wanted more than what he had, and that trait of wanting more came to the tribe of Reuven and eventually came out when they wanted more green grass.

“The focus of a parent is a seed, and it takes root. Kids pick up on what we do and say and who we are. “What is said and not said: The values are transmitted to your kids.”

Rav Dessler said that Hashem created a world with tremendous light and energy. Adam sinned and that caused a break-down of those lights. Each of us has to take our individual light and gather them together to bring the glory of Hashem.

When we say “Bonei Yerushalayim” in davening, it’s in the present tense. The term “boneh” is about every single mitzvah that we perform. When we overcome negative midos, then the world is a better place of light and energy, and that is why we are here. The focus of our life is about picking up light everywhere to make the world a better place.

There are often moments in our lives when we have the opportunity to overcome negative feelings and realize whatever happens is from Hashem. When we are able to say that this is tailor-made for me from Hashem, that will bring g’ulah. “Our lives are about building Yerushalayim on a continuous basis.”

Every person’s mitzvos are vessels to bring Hashem. We need to use our outer and inner resources to bring Hashem into this world.

Reuven and Gad wanted to serve Hashem with the land. Their desire was spiritual. The problem was they jumped the gun so to speak. They should have gone into Israel first and then requested that land. They should have waited for the division of the land.

She noted that a slip of the tongue reveals unconscious thoughts. Be on guard not to be attached to the material for its own sake. When we are, then the blessing in the material is withdrawn. We need to direct our life towards the primary.

Reuven and Gad had a lack of balance in terms of thinking through what was primary and what was secondary. Yes, sheep are important, but more important is the owner of the sheep, Hashem.

He wants us to live in the most comfortable place but in a place of holiness to help us develop spiritually. Eretz Yisrael should be the land you are drawn to – not the fat land for sheep.

She gave a few examples of skewed priorities. A gorgeous silver menorah with regular candles instead of olive oil. A beautiful building with no money to pay teachers for shiurim. Being at a wedding and eating the smorgasbord instead of going to the chupah.

We have to make calculations of what is important. Reuven and Gad could have asked Moshe. Moshe understood where one’s heart determines what he says first. There is no such thing as a slip of the tongue. What is on your mind first and foremost will come to the forefront.

We have this struggle which is the paradigm of Eisav and Yaakov. She qualified that Judaism is not an ascetic religion. Taking pleasures of this world, though, should never be an end in itself, but rather a means to accomplish our mission. Eisav was about pleasure, and if pleasure is our goal, then we are following in the footsteps of Eisav. This is a trap where the means become the end.

In a pidyon ha’ben, the kohen asks the father if he wants the five silver dollars or the child. This is not a one-time question. It’s a lifelong question. “What are your priorities in life?” Rebbetzin Smiles noted that this is relevant in so many areas in our lives. Ask yourself if you are involved in raising the sparks of Hashem’s light. Know that decisions you make will impact future generations, neighbors, and friends. They pick up our values. We are here to perfect the world.

Ask yourself what are your values. Where are you holding in your avodas Hashem?

By Susie Garber