The Art Of Negotiation
How The Reubenites And Gadites Negotiated Their Settlement
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
In this week's Torah portion, Rabbi Fohrman discusses the interesting conversation between the children of Gad, the children of Reuben and Moses, as they are requesting to live on the other side of the Jordan – not in the land of Israel proper.
Rabbi Fohrman analyzes their exchange to get to the core of true negotiation and communication – trust and respect.
Hi everybody, this is Rabbi David Fohrman, and you are watching Aleph Beta, welcome to Parshat Matot and Masei.
This week's Parsha teaches us a great deal about the art of effective negotiation. When you find yourself at loggerheads with the other side what do you do to make the deal work? Our Parsha deals with this issue, I think, and provides a surprising, if enlightening, answer.
The Story of the Reubenites and Gadites Who Settled East of the JordanThe story I'm referencing here is the negotiation between Moses and the children of Gad and the children of Reuven over their future homeland. Here's what happens.
It's the last year of Israel's sojourn in the desert, they have successfully conquered so far land on the eastern side of the Jordan River, but the people have not yet crossed the river to enter the land of Canaan. At that juncture, members of the tribe of Reuven and Gad approach Moses with a request.
The land that's been conquered, they said, it's grassland, it's great for grazing cattle and livestock, and we, the children of Gad, the children of Reuven, we have lots of cattle and livestock.
Im matzanu chen b'einecha – if we found favor in your eyes Moses;
Yutan et ha'aretz hazot l'avadecha l'achuza – please give us this land as an inheritance.
Al ta'avireinu et ha'Yarden – don't force us to cross the Jordan River into the land of Canaan.
Before we go any further here I want to ask you to put yourself into the shoes of Moses: how would you have responded to this? As the next few verses indicate, Moses has some real fears here, legitimate fears, about granting this request.
One thing you could do as a leader is simply say no. I don't even have to tell you why, I'm just not doing this. Moses actually takes the risk of sharing his fears with the people that have asked him to do this. In so doing, he's opening up all sorts of risky possibilities. They could discount his fears, argue against them, try to convince Moshe that those fears are ridiculous. But Moses does it anyway and here's what he says.
Vayomer Moshe l'bnei Gad v'l'bnei Reuven – and Moses says to the children of Gad and the children of Reuven;
Ha'acheichem yavo'u la'milchama v'atem teishvu poh – do you really think that it's right that your brothers should go out to war against the people of Canaan while you sit in comfort here on the east side of the Jordan?
Then Moses goes further, he says, by doing so, you would actually be swaying the hearts of the people and giving them reason to resist crossing the Jordan just like you. That would be a disaster because we've seen that story before, it all happened 40 years ago. Why do you think we've been in the desert for 40 years?
Koh asu avoteichem – he says, this is what your fathers did when they sent the spies to scout out the land and the spies came back with a bad report and the spies swayed the people from wanting to go into the land to conquer it.
Vayichar af Hashem bayom hahu – and G-d was angry at them at that time and decreed that that entire generation would have to die out in the desert, and their children – you guys – you would be the one to inherit the land, and now you're doing it again.
V'hinei kamtem tachat avoteichem – you're doing the same thing as your fathers did, and who knows what will happen this time? If the people rebel against going into the land of Canaan, G-d may keep us in this desert indefinitely.
V'shichatem l'kol ha'am hazeh – you are going to destroy everything by doing this.
Moses lays his fears right out there on the table. Now if you were representing the tribes of Gad and Reuven at this moment, how would you respond to Moses' words? You still want this deal, you still want this land on the east side of the Jordan, this is the best place for you, what are you going to say to Moses?
How Did the Two Tribes of Israel Succeed in Their Negotiation?At this point I think you face a choice. Either argue against Moses' fears or alternatively, to try to craft a proposal that might work for Moses. What if you said something like, Moses, we can offer you certain assurances, if we go into the land and we fight alongside our brothers then you'll give us the east side of the Jordan. And, if we don't go into the land, and we don't fight alongside our brothers, then we won't get that land. Would that work Moses?
Now if you look carefully at what happens next, the children of Gad and Reuven do something that seems similar to that option I just described, but is a very little bit different, and, maybe a great deal more convincing. Here's what in fact happens.
Vayigshu eilav vayomru – they approached him and they said. Now stop right here, why does it even have to say 'they approached him'? Who cares whether they approached him and said or whether they just said? The words Vayigshu or Vayigash in Biblical Hebrew seems to be a kind of code word for something.
Imagine that you and I are standing far apart and we're involved in negotiation, but then I take a step towards you and then I speak, what does that body language suggest? When I approach you I close the distance between two possible rivals of negotiation and I speak to you as one human being to another human being. And listen to what the children of Gad and Reuven say after they approach Moses.
Gidrot tzon nivneh l'mikneinu poh – [we'll leave 5:43] all our flocks behind as well as our children.
Not only will we go out to fight alongside our brethren;
Anachnu nechaletz chushim – we will be the vanguard, we'll be the frontline troops,
we will not rest until every last one of the tribes finds its inheritance in the land.
What had they done here?
What Is the Bible Saying About Negotiation?In negotiation you have two possible ways to create reassurances for the other side. The standard way of doing it is through conditions and consequences. What sort of conditions can I put into place, and what sorts of consequences can I put into place for violation of those conditions, that will inspire some sense of safety on the part of the other party? That's one way of structuring a deal.
But there's another way that can work even better, it's the approach taken by the children of Gad and the children of Reuven. They listen to Moshe's fear, they understand it, and they respond directly to it, not with conditions and consequences but with something deeper.
Vayigshu eilav – they approached him and they offered – in the last analysis – the most basic currency that any human being can offer one another, trust. We understand your fear, here is what we will do to allay it. Not only will we fight side-by-side [with our 7:14] brethren, we'll be on the vanguard, we will be on the frontlines. Not only we will neutralize your fear, we will help you, we will make it even better for you than you might have imagined it could be.
You know something else? They just say that they'll do it, there's no conditions in their language. We hear your fear, this is what we will do, you have our word.
Now listen to Moshe's response.
Vayomer aleihem Moshe – and this is what Moshe said in reply;
Im ta'asun et ha'davar hazeh – if you in fact do what you say you do;
Im teichaltzu lifnei Hashem la'milchama – if you in fact go in the frontlines along with your brethren;
V'avar lachem kol chalutz et ha'Yarden – and you cross the Jordan in the vanguard;
Ad horisho et oyvav mi'panav – until all of the enemies of the people of Israel are vanquished.
Then... then what?
You might have expected Moses to say, 'then I will give you the east side of the Jordan, what you want', but he doesn't say that.
Vihitem neki'im mei'Hashem u'mi'Yisrael – then you will be held guiltless before G-d and before Israel.
You will have done your duty, he tells them.
V'im loh ta'asun kein – but if you fail to live up to what you've promised me;
hinei chataschem laHashem – you will have sinned before G-d;
U'de'u chataschem – and you will know that you have sinned.
Moses replies to them in kind, not with the language of consequences and conditions but with the language of trust. If you look me in the eye and say, trust me, here is what I will do, what do I need to understand in order to trust you? I need to know you're serious, and I need to know that you understand the consequences of what you just said. Not the [fake/fate 9:13] consequences, I need you to understand something more essential than that.
If you fail me, you will have sinned against G-d, you'll have sinned against your brethren, the people, and you will have failed to live up to what you told me. That's all I need you to understand. If you understand that, I'm prepared to make the deal.
Fascinatingly, the next thing that Moshe does is he convenes all of the elders of all of the tribes and publicly makes this deal with the children of Gad and the children of Reuven, but all of a sudden he uses different language.
In his public recitation of the deal Moshe says: Im ya'avru bnei Gad u'bnei Reuven – if these tribes go before us and become the vanguard in the attempt to conquest the land then they will get the east side of Jordan. And, if they don't become the vanguard then they won't get the east side of the Jordan, they'll have to find a place to settle along with you on the west side of the Jordan. What happened?
All the language is different. Now we have lawyer language, we're back to consequences and conditions. What happened to the language of trust?
The answer is this time he's not talking to the children of Reuven, he's talking to the children of Israel. The deal that he has made is a one-on-one compact with them, it's between Moses and the children of Gad and the children of Reuven, that deal was sealed on trust, that's why Moses went for it. But that's not really something he can present to everyone else.
Everyone else did not seal a compact with them based on trust and therefore the only thing Moses can say is the language of consequences and the language of conditions. Had he made the argument from trust the people of Israel would have come back and said, look, you may trust them, but who says we trust them? What do you have to offer us?
Moshe understands that intuitively and therefore he offers them the only thing he can offer them, here are the consequences that will accrue to the children of Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven if they don't live up to what they say.
But that's not the reason Moses sealed the deal.
What the Bible Teaches Us About NegotiationWhat sealed the deal was a Vayigshu Eilav, their approach to him as one human being to the other, speaking the language of trust. It is, in the last analysis, the most effective, direct way of sealing a deal.
Lawyers are great, but even the lawyers will tell you – or my lawyer friends will tell you – that the strongest of deals sometimes comes when the two litigants banish the lawyers from the room, approach one another, look each other in the eye and talk this kind of language.
Here is what I am prepared to do for you, I put my reputation on the line, and I am making a commitment of one human being to the other. I understand your fear, I'm addressing your fear, I will not let you down.
The other side needs to understand you're serious, the other side needs to understand that you get the real consequences of what you're saying. If you don't live up to this you will have sinned against them. But if you can look them in the eye and assure them that you do understand, the deal is the strongest compact you can imagine.
Your contract is one page long instead of 20. But if you can really establish the bond of trust, if you can really approach the other, that one page sometimes can be all that you need.