In Perek 32 we find the tribes of Reuven and Gad requesting from Moshe that they be allotted the land on the eastern side of the Jordan River, as it was lush grazing land and better for their flocks.
Moshe's response was that by requesting this, and if he would approve it, an impression will be formed in the minds of the rest of the nation. The impression would be that these tribes are avoiding participating in the coming battles, and that they found a better land than the Land of Israel, and, in a sense, are rejecting the Land of Israel. By creating this impression, others might be influenced to reject Eretz Yisrael and attempt to avoid entering.
There was nothing really wrong with the actual request. On its own merits, it stands as a reasonable request. The only problem Moshe had with it was the impression it gave over to others. For that side issue alone, Moshe would have rejected the request. It was only because they found a solution - i.e. to go in with the nation, fight the battles, and only afterwards go to reside on the eastern banks of the Jordan River - was their request approved.
There are two lessons (that are connected) I see in this story:
- We have to be careful of the impression we give over. Even if every other aspect of what we might be doing is fine, pure and logical, the impression (formed) is just as important a factor.
- In the big debate about whether Jews in America, or anywhere in the Diaspora for that matter, are really striving to live in Eretz Yisrael - maybe on its own it is not so bad to live in America and even to want to remain there. A person can have very valid reasons - parnassah, culture, friends, health, etc.. - to desire to remain in America. These people, however, should still be careful to not give the impression that they are rejecting Eretz Yisrael, rather they are preferring Diaspora for a very specific, possibly legitimate, reason. That is a big responsibility because while they prefer to live in America, they should not be the cause of other people following in their ways for less legitimate reasons.