Half the Tribe of Menashe
PLEASE NOTE: Because of the timing of the end of Pesach, Matot is the Parasha this week in Israel and next week in the Diaspora.
At the end of Parshat Matot, the tribes of Gad and Reuven approach Moshe with a request. They point out that their tribes have large flocks of animals, and the land on the other side of the Jordan River is good grazing land.
“This land… is land for flocks, and your servants have flocks,” (Bamidbar 32:4).
Did they not learn?
Moshe, understandably, becomes upset with the two tribes, reminding them of the sin of the spies –the last time the Israelites didn’t want to enter the promised land.
The tribes of Gad and Reuven clarified that they were not shirking their duties and didn’t want to disobey God. They said they would build pens for their sheep and cities for their children, and then join the rest of the nation in conquering the land. Only after the conquest was complete would they return home to their families.
Moshe realizes that the two tribes are genuine in their request. It is not that they don’t want to enter the land of Israel, but instead want to expand the borders of the holy land to include the side of the Jordan where Moshe will die and be buried.
He agrees to their request, but he makes it conditional. They may only inherit the grazing lands on the other side of the Jordan if they fight alongside the rest of the nation to help them to inherit the land of Israel.
Moshe also clarifies their priorities. Changing the order, he said to first, “Build cities for your children and pens for your sheep,” (Bamidbar 32:24).
Half of Menashe
After making the deal with the tribes of Gad and Reuven, Moshe does something surprising:
“Moshe gave the children of Gad and the children of Reuven and half of the tribe of Menashe ben Yosef the kingdom of Sichon, King of the Emorites, and the kingdom of Og, king of Bashan,” (Bamidbar 32:33).
Reuven and Gad made the request to stay on that side of the Jordan River, because they had flocks. Seemingly for no reason, Moshe suddenly adds that half the tribe of Menashe will also inherit alongside them, outside the borders of Canaan.
Did Menashe want to live there?
The Netziv (Devarim 3:16) says that it was Moshe who decided to add half of Menashe to live next to the tribes of Gad and Reuven. Moshe was concerned that being so far from the tabernacle and the holiness of Israel, the two tribes would forget about Torah and turn to idolatry. Moshe’s concern was well founded. As soon as the soldiers of Gad and Reuven returned home, they set up an altar, leading the rest of the nation to suspect them of idolatry (Joshua 22:10).
So, he decided to have half of Menashe live with them, to remind them of their duties and obligations.
Moshe chose Menashe for a reason. Shoftim (5:14) describes the descendants of Machir (the leader of Menashe) as “legislators,” a term also applied to Moshe Rabbeinu.
Not only did they know Torah, but they also knew how to live far from the spiritual center of Judaism. The founder of their tribe, Yosef’s son, was born in Egypt and served as Yosef’s advisor. He grew up in a palace and spent his days dealing with the Egyptian princes and governors, while remaining committed to the values of his father and grandfather.
Moshe added another layer of protection. He placed half the tribe on one side of the river and half the tribe on the other. This meant that Menashe would always remain connected to what was going on in the holy land. When the families got together, they would discuss the latest Torah teachings and from there Torah would spread to Reuven and Gad, their neighbors.
The Original WebYeshiva
In a sense, the tribe of Menashe was the original WebYeshiva. They were able to take the Torah from Israel and spread it far and wide. They would share the latest Torah teachings with those around them who did not have direct access to the rabbis and teachers of Israel.
In a sense, each of us is like the tribe of Menashe. We each have a responsibility to share what we learn with those around us, who may be too far away to hear the teachings directly themselves. We are a conduit for Torah. We must do our best to share our knowledge with the tribes around us.