We read in the beginning of Parashat Bamidbar the names of the representatives of each tribe appointed by God to assist Moshe and Aharon in counting Benei Yisrael. One of the appointed men is identified by the name “Elyasaf son of Deuel,” who represented the tribe of Gad (1:14). Later in Parashat Bamidbar, when the Torah describes the arrangement of the tribes during travel and encampment, the Torah again mentions the names of the leaders of the tribes, and in this context, the leader of Gad is called Elyasaf son of Reuel – with the letter dalet of “Deuel” replaced by the letter reish, forming the name “Reuel.”
The Chida, in his Chomat Anakh commentary, cites the Imrei Noam (Parashat Vayetze) as claiming that Elyasaf’s father was actually named “Deuel,” and the name was changed to “Reuel” as an allusion to “rei’a Kel” – “the friend of God,” meaning, Moshe. The tribe of Gad was granted the special privilege of being the tribe in whose territory Moshe was buried (as Moshe himself mentions before his death – Devarim 33:21). The tribe of Gad earned this privilege, the Imrei Noam explained, in the merit of its remaining silent instead of protesting when the arrangement of the Israelite camp was established. The camp was divided into four sections, each consisting of three tribes, and one of the three tribes in each group was appointed leader of that group. Three of the four tribes chosen as leaders – Reuven, Efrayim and Dan – were founded by a firstborn: Reuven was Leah’s firstborn; Efrayim was the son of Yosef, Rachel’s firstborn; and Dan was Bilha’s firstborn. Gad was Zilpa’s firstborn, and yet, the tribe of Gad was denied the privilege of leadership, as its position was taken by Yehuda. (Gad was assigned to the group led by Reuven – 2:10-16). Despite being the only firstborn not to have received this distinction, the tribe of Gad accepted the arrangement without any protest. In reward for not complaining, the tribe of Gad earned a special relationship with “Reuel” – Moshe, and he was buried in their territory. And thus in the context of the camp’s arrangement, the Torah changed the name of Gad’s representative from “Elyasaf ben Deuel” to “Elyasaf ben Reuel,” signifying this tribe’s special relationship to Moshe by virtue of its peaceful acceptance of the arrangement of the camp.
Rav Chaim Palagi, in his Nefesh Chaim (ma’arekhet gimmel), adds that this quality of Gad might also be alluded to in the name “Deuel,” which could be read as “de’u Kel” – “knowing God.” Acquiring knowledge and wisdom, Rav Palagi writes, requires humility. And thus the tribe of Gad, who humbly accepted their position without protest, is associated with the name “Deuel,” because the kind of humility they embodied is indispensable for attaining knowledge and understanding.
Developing this point further, we cannot acquire knowledge if we are bogged down by pettiness and trivialities. If we feel the need to protest against and complain about every minor grievance, technically legitimate as it may be, then we are likely failing to remain focused on what really matters. In order to achieve “Deuel,” broad Torah knowledge and a deep connection to God, we need to keep our priorities straight and avoid getting distracted and feeling disturbed by petty problems.