“Build cities for your women and children, and pens for your flocks, but do what you have promised.” — Numbers 32:24
The Torah portion for this week is a double reading, Matot-Massei, from Numbers 30:2–36:13. Matot means branches and Massei means journey. The Haftorah is from Jeremiah 2:4–28; 4:1–2.
There is a great story told about a businessman who meets a Mexican fisherman while on vacation. The businessman notices several large yellowfin tuna in the fisherman’s boat. He compliments the fisherman on the quality of the fish and asks how long it took to catch them. “Only a little while,” explains the fisherman. “Well what do you do with the rest of your day?” the businessman wanted to know. “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos.”
The businessman just couldn’t resist giving his advice. “Don’t you know that if you spent more time fishing, you could buy a bigger boat, and then with the bigger boat you could catch more fish until you could buy even more boats? You could eventually catch so many fish that you could avoid the middleman and sell directly to distributors. You would get so large, that you could move to New York City where you would run the whole enterprise and then sell your company stock to the public. You could make millions!”
The fisherman asked: “How long will this take?’ The man replied, “Fifteen to twenty years.” The fisherman asked: “Then what?” The businessman smiled and said, “Then you could retire in a small Mexican village where you could sleep late, fish a little, play with your children, take a siesta with your wife, and sip wine with your friends.” The confused fisherman replied: “But I’m doing that now!”
No matter how many times I hear that story, it always makes an impression. We often get so caught up in making a living that we forget about making a life!
In this week’s reading, the tribes of Reuben and Gad ask Moses for permission to settle just outside of Israel where the land seems more lush. Moses is furious with them – not because they didn’t want to go into Israel, but because of the reason why – because of their cattle – because of their business (32:4)! Was that their main concern in life?
The Jewish sages explain that Moses points out the inappropriate priorities of the tribes by mentioning the wives and children first, and only then the cattle, when he gives permission for the tribes to settle east of the Jordan River. Moses is teaching that when making life decisions, family, not business, should be our chief concerns.
Friends, let us take Moses’ teaching to heart. God, family, and friends must all come before business. Our relationships are our most important assets, and our money should serve that purpose. Never confuse the means with the end!