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Parashat Massei: Numbers 33:1-36:13

When the Children of Israel were about to cross over the Jordan and conquer Canaan, the tribes of Gad, Reuben, and the half-tribe of Manasseh petitioned Moses to remain on the east side of the Jordan so they could begin settling into their inheritance. Rather than continuing the conquest along with the other tribes, they had found what they desired (land fitting for their cattle) and wanted to start settling down. They wanted to finally start putting down some roots after forty years of living a nomadic life. But their plan wasn’t in alignment with God’s plan. What was so bad about their proposition? We find out in a rebuke from Moses:

“Why will you discourage the heart of the people of Israel from going over into the land that the LORD has given them? Your fathers did this, when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to see the land … And behold, you have risen in your fathers’ place, a brood of sinful men, to increase still more the fierce anger of the LORD against Israel! For if you turn away from following him, he will again abandon them in the wilderness, and you will destroy all this people.” (Numbers 32:7–8, 14–15).

To the modern reader it sounds like Moses is making a big deal out of nothing. But maybe there’s more going on that we realize. You’ve probably heard about the butterfly effect. It’s a scientific theory that speculates that the flapping wings of a single butterfly in one part of the world actually has the power to affect the weather in another part of the world over time. In other words, a seemingly small and trivial action has the potential of causing astronomical, and often unanticipated, results.

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