At the end of Parshat Matot, the tribes of Reuven and Gad request from Moshe to settle outside the land of Canaan, the lands conquered from Og and Sichon. Moshe's response here is quite telling, and a great lesson can be learned from this, as is brought in Chazon Tzion. Hopefully I'll get to type up that drashah some time.
What has been troubling to me is not the main deal, but rather the details.
- If Reuven and Gad send men to fight, then they get to settle on the other side of the Jordan River.
- If Reuven and Gad don't send to fight, then they will get to settle on the west side of the Jordan.
From my point of view, I had a hard time comprehending this deal. I spent much time desiring to make Aliyah before the realization. The Aliyah date was a constant focus for more than a year. Now here comes the Torah and tells Reuven and Gad that if they don't fight, they get a portion of Eretz Yisrael for nothing!
Difficult indeed. But to understand this properly, I believe that we must understand what Reuven and Gad were asking for.
Eretz Yisrael is a huge plot of land, from Nachal Mitzraim to Nehar Prat. However, Eretz Yisrael starts out small. It must be the land west of the Jordan first. The 12 tribes needed to settle there before expanding outwards. (Perhaps this hints at something else. Reuven and Gad offered to fight and stay in Eretz Yisrael-proper until the end of the division, which turned out to be 2503. If they would have just stayed in Eretz Yisrael proper, the further need of Galus would have been nullified.)
Essentially, Eretz Yisrael-proper is a land promised by HaKadosh Baruch Hu to fit our needs. By not following this mitzvah, Reuven and Gad essentially decided to settle in Chutz La'Aretz, in that Eretz Yisrael-proper wasn't settled first. They decided that Eretz Yisrael didn't have what they "needed", instead of adjusting their desires to match Eretz Yisrael.
Moshe then cuts a deal with them. If they will contribute in a meaningful way, then in spite of their residence in Chutz La'Aretz, they will be considered as if they are in Eretz Yisrael.
But if they don't follow through on this deal, what is their punishment? The mitzvah overrides their desire for materialism. That is to say, since they made Eretz Yisrael and their materialism mutually exclusive, Eretz Yisrael will win out, and they will be forced to make Aliyah.
So for me to understand this deal, I must read it like someone that doesn't want to be in Eretz Yisrael. Then it makes sense.