Parshat Matos 5779: Why Does Moshe Include Half of Shevet Menashe With Shevatim Reuven and Gad on the East Side of the Yarden?

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Parshat Matos 5779: Why Does Moshe Include Half of Shevet Menashe With Shevatim Reuven and Gad on the East Side of the Yarden?

by Moshe Burt

With Bilaam’s abortive attempts to curse the B’nei Yisrael and subsequent plot which led to the men of B’nei Yisrael partaking in the Midianite/Moabite bazaar and the bizarre mode of avodah zora: the Ba’al Peor, which in turn led to the cohabitation of Zimri and Kozbi, B’nei Yisrael stood a watershed, a rock-bottom and things couldn’t have gotten much worse. There was only one way for B’nai Yisrael to go from there — Up!

Usually Parshiyot Matos/Masei is a twin-bill, but this year it splits into individual parshas. Our Parshat Matos, followed next week by Parshat Masei, relates the events of the legion of Am Yisrael going to fight Hashem’s wars against the kings of Midian and the evil Bila’am, the allocation and distribution of the spoils of victorious battle, preparations for B’nei Yisrael to enter Eretz Yisrael, with the battles that will ensue upon entry, and delineation of each Shevet’s (Tribe’s) portion in the Land as well as designation the cities of refuge.

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, writes in his summary of Parshat Matos in his sefer “Unlocking The Torah Text,” Sefer Bamidbar (page 275):

Representatives of the tribes of Reuven and Gad approach Moshe with the request that they be allowed to remain on the East Bank of the Jordan River. Moshe responds indignantly, expressing deep-seeded fears that the refusal of these tribes to enter Canaan will prompt the entire nation to question their own entry into the land. Such an eventuality, he warns, might well lead to a national tragedy similar to the sin of the spies, a generation earlier.

The representatives of Reuven and Gad counter with an offer to fight in the vanguard of the army of B’nei Yisrael, returning to their homes and families only after the conquest of the land. Moshe agrees, and the territory on the East Bank of the Jordan is set aside for tribes of Reuven, Gad and one-half of the tribe [Shevet] Menashe.

But it was not just concern that Shevatim Gad and Reuven might sit-out the fight for Eretz Yisrael which troubled Moshe. Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, in his sefer “Unlocking The Torah Text,” Sefer Bamidbar (pages 315, 317-318) discusses what could be viewed as Shevatim Gad’s and Reuven’s missed opportunity to settle in the land with their brethren, opting for settling their families on the East side of the Yarden. R’ Goldin sees Shevatim Gad’s and Reuven’s desires as foretelling patterns in our times:

Absent Hashem, the settling of Canaan was readily rejected by the tribes of Reuven and Gad. Absent Hashem, the State of Israel runs the tragic risk of becoming a state like any other, potentially rejected when memory fades and the going gets tough.

Regarding Moshe Rabbeinu’s response to the pledge of Sh’vatim Gad and Reuven to fight in the upcoming war; “then you shall be vindicated from Hashem and from Israel,” (The Artscroll Stone Chumash cites Yoma (38a) on Perek 32, posuk 22 as rendered in this paragraph):

It is not enough for one to know that one’s actions are proper in Hashem’s eyes. One must also act in such a way as to not engender suspicion on the part of human beings.

Here, Rabbi Goldin provides context regarding Shevatim Reuven’s and Gad’s pledge, his assignment of one-half of Shevet Menashe to join them on the East Bank of the Jordan River. Rabbi Goldin also questions the assignment of one-half of Shevet Menashe and cites a possible answer. (ibid, pages 305-306, 311-312) :

Moshe accepts this pledge, announces the agreement to the nation and designates the land on the East Bank of the Jordan as the heritage of the tribes of Reuven, Gad one-half of Shevet Menashe. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Bamidbar Perek 32, posukim 1-33)

… The request for a heritage on the East Bank of the Jordan is made only by the tribes of Reuven and Gad. Why, then, does Moshe ultimately include half of the tribe of Menashe in the agreement concerning the East Bank of the Jordan?

After the tribes of Reuven and Gad successfully fight alongside the brothers, their own territory on the East Bank of the Jordan becomes part of the national heritage of the B’nei Yisrael and acquires the sanctity reserved for the Land of Israel. (Rabbi Goldin citing Mishne Torah, Hilchot Terumot 1:2-3, explanation of Rabbi Menachem Leibtag, Tanach Study Center, “Nevi’im Rishonim” series, Yehoshua 22, Nonetheless, Reuven and Gad are the first tribes to be exiled, centuries later, during the Assyrian conquest of the Kingdom of Israel. (Rabbi Goldin citing Divrei HaYamim I, 5:26) This tragic fate, the rabbis claim, is a measure-for-measure payback for their original rejection of the land at the time of its conquest. (Rabbi Goldin citing Midrash Rabbah Bamidbar, Perek 22, posuk 6)

…When the subjugation of the land is complete and the tribes of Reuven and Gad do return to the East Bank of the Jordan, a potentially dangerous rift develops between them and the rest of the nation. (Rabbi Goldin citing Yehoshua 22) Some commentaries suggest that Moshe’s seemingly arbitrary decision to place a portion of Shevet Menashe together with the tribes of Reuven and Gad on the Jordan’s East Bank [was] actually an attempt to forestall such eventualities. Moshe’s hope [was] that the two “halves” of Menashe [would] retain close ties, thus connecting the populations on both banks of the river. (Rabbi Goldin citing Bamidbar, Perek 3, posukim 11-13)

Rabbi Goldin asks further questions (ibid, pages 306, 309):

…By what right does Moshe independently agree to the proposal of the two tribes? On numerous occasions… Moshe turns to Hashem for guidance in resolving challenging situations. Why in this case, confronted with a radical departure from the Divinely ordained plan of full entry into the land, does Moshe feel comfortable acting on his own? Why doesn’t he consult Hashem for guidance before allowing two tribes to settle outside the land of Canaan?

…In Moshe’s response to the two tribes… [he] reviews the tribes’ proposal to participate in the conquest of the land, …insert[ing] the phrase “before the Lord” no fewer than five times in four short sentences. Why does Moshe findsuch reiteration necessary? Wouldn’t one mention of Hashem’s involvement suffice?

The answer becomes clear upon viewing Moshe’s words… Moshe repeatedly stresses Hashem’s involvement in the conquest of the land because the representatives of the [two] tribes, in their original proposal to Moshe, do not mention Hashem even once.

The tribes of Reuven and Gad define their responsibility at this juncture solely in interpersonal terms [and] in order to counter Moshe’s objections to their remaining on the Jordan’s East Bank [while] find[ing] a way to satisfy their obligation to the rest of the nation.

Moshe, however, sees things differently… [that] the nation’s entry into Canaan is not solely a nationalistic enterprise but is, even more fundamentally, a fulfillment of Hashem’s will. The two tribes’primary obligation, therefore, lies not toward their brothers, but, rather, towards Hashem.

Rabbi Goldin concludes (ibid, page 315):

The absence of Hashem from Reuven’s and Gad’s calculations concerning the conquest of Canaan… foreshadows challenging patterns in our own time.

Increasingly disillusioned by the shortcomings they see around them and influenced by the development of post-Zionist ideology, many… young Israelis have… begun to question the need for constant struggle and deep sacrifice that is required from those living in today’s homeland of the Jews.

This narrative, for example, challenges Jews living in the diaspora at a time when the Promised Land, after thousands of years of wandering, is fully “in our sight.” Will [they], like the tribes of Reuven and Gad, remain on the periphery of experience in Judaism as the focus of history shifts back to the Land of Israel? Will [they] and [their] children forfeit the opportunity to live in the land of our ancestors, an opportunity for which our people have prayed for centuries?

At it’s deepest level, the failure of the tribes of Reuven and Gad on the very border of the Promised Land serves as a cautionary tale, reminding us of the tragic results when we lose sight of the opportunities before us, inherent in every aspect of our lives as Jews.

This author would add at least two other caveats to Rabbi Goldin’s further questions and conclusions. One is regarding a modern-day military leadership, as well as political-governmental sphere seemingly infected with post-Zionist ideology, seeming devoid of even the thought of Hashem and who seem lost and hamstrung regarding defending and winning Eretz Yisrael L’shem Shemayim.

The other caveat, with this author’s deep respect and honor toward all aspects of Torah scholarship, relates to some in more spiritual sectors who seemingly shun military and physical national service and who see those of their sector who serve as disgraceful, for lack of a better word.

Yes, there are those whose skills and aptitudes are towards rising to the highest heights of Torah scholarship L’Shem Shemayim. But to see merit only in Torah study while discouraging, disrespecting, disparaging and physically attacking those of a sector who mix Torah scholarship with physical national service in the military, or in other modes, seems not in the spirit which Moshe Rabbeinu sought to convey to the tribes of Reuven and Gad and to the nation L’Shem Shemayim.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the twice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free — only upon his return home to Israel, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of five years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.