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Matos: Primary and Secondary

Miriam Aflalo

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

“And they came near to him, and said, ‘We will build sheepfolds here for our cattle, and cities for our little ones … (Bamidbar 32:16)

This is what is said: “A wise person’s heart is on his right, and a fool’s heart is on his left.”


“A wise person’s heart is to his right” — this is Moshe. “A fool’s heart is to his left” — these are the children of Reuven and Gad. That which is primary they made secondary, and that which is secondary they made primary. For they loved their money more than their lives. Moshe said to them, “Put first things first. First build cities for your children and then sheepfolds for your cattle.” (Bamidbar 32:24)


“A fool’s heart is to his left” defines a situation in which everything is functional and unimpaired; the heart itself is without a defect, pumping, circulating — except for one minor detail. It’s on the wrong side — the left side. (Rav Mordechai Ezrachi, Birkas Mordechai)

It happens to all of us.

You’re standing in the shoe store looking for brown shoes. The saleswoman shows you brown, but you dismiss it. That’s “dirt brown.” I need a rich brown. She shows you another pair. Nope. Those have gold buckles and I need something to match silver. Wait a second, what about those? Yes, but doesn’t Rochi have the same pair? No, thank you.

Suddenly it flashes through your mind: “Shame on you! Three hours for a pair of shoes ‘that won’t be like anybody else’s in town’? Don’t you have anything more important to worry about?”

Picture yourself standing in the kitchen planning dessert for a sheva brachos. You phone Dinah; she’s especially talented when it comes to beautiful food. Dinah wants to help and offers a nice recipe, easy to prepare, tasty, and pretty. But you’re not happy. You want something sensational, with layers, nuts, and nougat. Does she have something like that? She has. Something breathtaking, a dream of a recipe, requiring tons of work, and very expensive. Eight layers. Are you writing it down? Okay, layer one, the meringue …

“Are you nuts?” your inner voice shrieks. “You’re going to invest so much time and money in something that will be gone in five minutes? Just to make an impression?”

Imagine. A man orders a suit from an expert tailor, a real craftsman. He comes in for fitting after fitting. Finally, the suit is ready; it fits just right and is very becoming. The man pays, takes the suit home. As he preens in front of the mirror he notices how shiny the striped silk lining is inside the jacket and sleeves. Why not turn the suit inside out? he wonders. After all, the inside is the shiniest, most eye-catching part. The outside is just plain, black pure English wool. Why not wear it inside out instead, and display the lining in all its glory?


And so he does, to the surprised laughter of all who see him. What happened? The suit is perfect; it fits him perfectly, it’s beautifully crafted — but it’s on the wrong side. The “left side.” (ibid.)

Is it really so wrong to buy shoes to fit my taste?

And who says it’s assur to invest time and effort into making a sheva brachos?

These things are important to me. Is it a sin that I like things to look nice? To make a good impression?

It’s permitted. Sometimes it’s even necessary. But don’t turn the suit inside out.

Aren’t sheepfolds for cattle necessary? Yes. But it’s on the left side. How can one mention sheepfolds before cities for children?

Naming the new granddaughter after your grandmother who was such a tzadeikes is very important. But maybe, just maybe, your daughter-in-law has some objection, and this could cause some tension in the new, young family.…

Have you thought about which takes precedence?

Baking homemade whole wheat bread is a wonderful thing. Ironing your husband’s shirts until they are free of all creases is meritorious. And making your own salads and spreads is healthy and thrifty.

But if at day’s end a woman collapses on the sofa, without even a hint of a smile left to muster for her husband — it’s necessary to think twice about which takes precedence. If your personal bag of life tasks is so crowded, you’ve got to think about your priorities.

With true introspection you’ll see that the right choices remain on the “right” side.

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