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Who was exiled first? Print E-mail
Tuesday, 11 July 2023

In Parshat Matot (Bamidbar 32:1-5), we read about how the tribes of Reuven and Gad requested to settle in Transjordan rather than cross the Jordan into the Land of Israel with the rest of B’nai Yisrael:

Very large herds belonged to the tribes of Reuven and Gad- an extremely large number; they saw the land of Ya’zeir and the land of Gilad, and behold the region was an area for livestock. The tribes of Reuven and Gad came and spoke to Moshe and to Elazar the Kohen, and to the princes of the community saying: “Atarot, Divon, Ya’zeir, Nimrah, Cheshbon, Elaleh, Sevam and Be’on, the land that God struck down before B’nai Yisrael, is an area of livestock; and your servants have livestock.” They said: “If we have found favor in your eyes, let this land be given to your servants as a possession. Do not bring us across the Jordan.”

The Midrash, Bamidbra Rabba 22:7 teaches:

In the case of the children of Gad and the children of Reuven, you find that they were wealthy, possessing large numbers of cattle, but they loved their money and settled outside the Land of Israel. Consequently, they were the first of the tribes to go into exile as we see in Divrei HaYamim I 5:26: “And the God of Israel stirred the spirit of King Pul of Assyria and the spirit of King Tilgat Pilneser of Assyria- and he exiled the Reuvenites, the Gadites and half the tribe of Menashe and led them away to Helah, Havor, Hara and the Gozon River to this day.” What brought it on them? The fact that they separated themselves from their brothers because of their possessions…

Were the tribes of Reuven, Gad and half of Menashe exiled first?

The Midrash, Eicha Rabba, Ptichta 5 asks:

In what order were the tribes exiled?

Rabbi Elazar says: the tribes of Reuven and Gad (and half the tribe of Menashe) went into exile first. Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachman says: The tribes of Zevulun and Naftali went into exile first as it says in Yishayahu 8:23: “He was not wearied the first time that the land was distressed. At the first, He lightly affected the land of Zevulun and the land of Naftali and afterwards He afflicted her more grievously by the road to the sea, beyond the Jordan to the Galil of the nations.”

The Midrash asks: How then does Rabbi Elazar interpret the verse from Yishayahu?

As the tribes of Reuven and Gad went into exile, so did the tribes of Zevulun and Naftali go into exile.

Buber explains the verse to mean that the tribes of Zevulun and Naftali had the same experience as had already befallen Reuven and Gad.

The Vilna Gaon follows the opinion of Rabbi Elazar that the tribes of Reuven, Gad and half the tribe of Menashe were exiled first. His proof is in the Talmud, Arachin 32b:

When the tribes of Reuven, Gad and half of Menashe were exiled (in the First Temple era) the Yovalot (Jubilee years) were suspended (as Yovel only applies when all 12 tribes are settled in the Land of Israel).

From here it is clear that Reuven, Gad and half of Menashe were exiled first otherwise the Yovalot would have been suspended earlier.

The exile was brought in stages in order to give B’nai Yisrael a chance to do Tshuva (return to God).  In line with Rabbi Elazar’s view, In 732-733 BCE Tiglat Pileser, King of Assyria conquered the Gilad area (where Reuven Gad and half of Menashe were located) and exiled them to Assyria. A few years later, the tribes of Zevulun and Naftali were exiled and in 720 BCE, after a three year siege by Shalmanesser, Sargon II King of Assyria conquered the Kingdom of Israel and exiled them to Assyria. In 586 BCE the Kingdom of Yehuda and the tribe of Binyamin fell in the hands of the Babylonians and the First Temple was destroyed.

It seems from the sources above that Reuven, Gad and half the tribe of Menashe were exiled first as retribution for the fact that under Moshe’s leadership, they were not interested in crossing over the Jordan and preferred to settle in Transjordan. Unfortunately, instead of waking up the rest of B’nai Yisrael, their exile started the ball rolling for the ultimate exile of all of the tribes.

May we continue to see the return of the exiled tribes to the modern State of Israel and may we learn from past mistakes that the fear of a lack of physical comforts should not be a deterrent for making aliya especially now that there are more comforts and employment opportunities in Israel than there have ever been before.

How did Menashe end up in Transjordan? Print E-mail
Monday, 18 July 2022

We read in Parshat Matot, Bamidbar 32:1: “The children of Reuven and the children of Gad had abundant livestock-very great. They saw the land of Yazer and the land of Gilad, and behold! The place was a place of livestock.”

The tribes of Reuven and Gad ask Moshe, Elazar HaKohen and the leaders of the assembly if they can inherit the lands in Transjordan rather than cross the Jordan and inherit with the rest of B’nai Yisrael. Moshe is not happy about this because it reminds him of the Meraglim (scouts) who did not want to inherit the Land of Israel. He is also afraid that in times of war, they will abandon their brothers who will have to fight on their own. They therefore make an agreement that the tribes of Reuven and Gad will inherit in Transjordan but they will come to fight the wars on the other side of the Jordan as pioneers.

All of a sudden in Bamidbar 32:33, we see that part of the tribe of Menashe is also included: “So Moshe gave to them- to the children of Gad, and the children of Reuven and chatzi (half of) the tribe of Menashe son of Yosef- the kingdom of Sichon king of the Emori and the kingdom of Og king of Bashan the land with its cities in the boundaries, and the cities of the surrounding land.

How did part of the tribe of Menashe end up being included?

According to Degel Machane Ephraim (Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Sudilkov), Moshe wanted to bridge the two tribes on the east bank (who would otherwise be isolated) with the rest of the nation. By placing half of Menashe on the east bank, they would serve as a link to their brothers and the other tribes on the other side of the Jordan and would provide the opportunity for the tribes of Reuven and Gad to connect to the holiness of the Land of Israel.

In verses 39-42 we read about the tribe of Menashe’s role in capturing the area:  “The children of Machir son of Menashe went to Gilad and captured it, and drove out the Emori who were in it. Moshe gave the Gilad to Machir son of Menashe and he settled it…”

In Yehoshua, 17:1 we also read about the inheritance of Menashe’s family: “Then came the lot for the tribe of Menashe, for he was Yosef’s firstborn, for Machir the firstborn of Menashe, the father of Gilad- because he was a man of war- therefore he had Gilad and Bashan.

According to Abarbanel, since Machir’s family consisted of powerful fighting men, the Machirites volunteered to settle east of the Jordan in order to defend the area against foreign invaders. They did not settle there for economic reasons as we don’t see that they had extensive flocks like the tribes of Reuven and Gad.

The Jerusalem Talmud, Bikurim 1:8 explains that the members of the tribe of Menashe received a territory in the northern part of Transjordan that had always been designated for them.

Ramban points out that that the word chatzi usually means half, but it can also mean part, as it does in the case of the tribe of Menashe, as only two (Machir and Gilad) out of Menashe’s eight families settled on the east bank of the Jordan.

It turns out that the tribe of Menashe ended up with the biggest inheritance out of all of the tribes. Malbim explains that by Menashe receiving portions on both sides of the Jordan, it was as if he was given a double portion- which would be befitting as he was Yosef’s firstborn.

In the case of Menashe, the oldest son of Yosef earned the largest inheritance, while in the case of Reuven, Yaakov’s oldest son, the firstborn lost out by choosing to abandon his inheritance on the eastern side of the Jordan, in the Land of Israel.

The Light at the end of the Tunnel Print E-mail
Friday, 26 July 2019

In this week’s Haftara from Yirmiyahu, Chapter 1, we read about God choosing Yirmiyahu to become the prophet.

In verse 10, God tells Yirmiyahu: “See, I have appointed you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms, to uproot and to smash, and to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Nehama Leibowitz brings the Malbim’s commentary to explain how a kingdom is compared to a house, because it is a structure made by man putting one stone on top of another, as a kingdom is gradually built up. In contrast, the nation is an organic natural growth (like a forest bringing forth trees). This verse sets the prophet over the nations and kingdoms- over the nations to uproot and destroy, over the kingdoms to pull down and demolish.

This order- placing destruction before construction- corresponds to the operation of removing evil before doing good. Rebuilding and replanting can have no permanency as long as the old have not been uprooted and pulled down.

Alshich explains:

The purpose of your prophecies is not to uproot and pull down but to prompt them to repent and mend their ways since they possess free will. Even the prophecy of uprooting and pulling down has the constructive purpose of building and planting, since the evil tidings- their retributions and failure to repent- is for the purpose of rebuilding and replanting, to prompt them to mend their ways.

The hope is that the people will repent before the destruction, but if that does not happen, they will still have to opportunity to rebuild and replant later.

We are now in the three weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av. We remember that the Jewish people did not listen to Yirmiyahu’s words to repent, the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed and the Jewish people were exiled. The prophecy to rebuild was fulfilled when Ezra and Nechemia came back to the Land of Israel and rebuilt Jerusalem and the Beit HaMikdash. Yet the people transgressed again, the Second Temple was also destroyed and the Jewish people were sent into exile.

Yet here we are today, against all odds, back in the Land of Israel, once again fulfilling Yirmiyahu’s prophecy “to build and to plant.” May we continue to cherish the State of Israel, the first flowerings of our redemption and may the Third Beit HaMikdash be rebuilt speedily in our days.

Giving credit where credit is due Print E-mail
Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Although we are reading different Parshiot this Shabbat in Israel and outside of Israel, the Haftarot are the same, as this week’s Haftara is the first of the three Haftarot leading up to Tisha B’Av which prophecize the destruction of Jerusalem.

When Menachem Begin was elected as Prime Minister of Israel in 1977, he used a quote from this week’s Haftara (Yirmiyahu 1:1-2:3) changing around the last few words of the quote in order to give his wife credit for his victory: “I remember for your sake the kindness of your youth, the love of your bridal days, your following after me in the wilderness in a land sown with mines.”

The full quote from Yirmiyahu 2:2 states: “Go and proclaim in the ears of Jerusalem saying, ‘Thus said God: I remember for your sake the chesed (kindness) of your youth, the love of your bridal days, your following me into the wilderness, in a land not sown.’”

Although most of the Haftara prophecizes destruction, we are left on a positive note. Due to the merits of B’nai Yisrael at the time of the exodus from Egypt, God will always forgive the Jewish people.

What was the loving kindness that B’nai Yisrael did in their youth?

According to Rashi, it is that they followed Moshe and Aharon from a settled land to a wilderness without anything but their belief in God.

Radak points out that the good merits that B’nai Yisrael had back then will help them in the future.

We see how B’nai Yisrael followed Moshe in Shmot 15:22 “Moshe led B’nai Yisrael away from the Reed Sea and they went out into the desert of Shur…”

Nehama Leibowitz adds that because of the loving kindness that B’nai Yisrael did back then, the nation will never fully be destroyed.

Shadal brings a different approach explaining that it is not only the loving kindness that the Jewish people did, it was also the loving kindness that God did for them by taking care of them in the desert. In this way, we see that chesed is reciprocal, the person who is giving is also receiving and vice versa.

These three weeks between the 17th of Tamuz and the 9th of Av are the perfect opportunity for us to emulate God and our forefathers and focus on performing acts of loving kindness which will in turn lead us to the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash.

Should Your Brothers Go Out to War While You Settle Here? Print E-mail
Wednesday, 16 July 2014
In Parshat Matot, the tribes of Reuven and Gad ask Moshe (Bamidbar 32:5): “If we have found favor in your eyes, let this land (the east bank of the Jordan) be given to your servants as a possession. Do not bring us over the Jordan(to the Land of Israel proper).”
Moshe answers: “Should your brothers go out to war while you settle here?”
In other words: When the other tribes go out to conquer the rest of the Land of Israel do you expect to sit at home?
Many Israelis have been called up in the past few weeks for Tzav Shmoneh, where they have to report immediately for miluim (army reserves) due to the dangerous situation that we are currently facing.
Those of us who are not fighting in the army do not just sit back and continue on with our regular lives as if nothing is happening. Many people in Israel as well as well as in Chutz La’Aretz (outside of Israel) are going out of the way to do what they can to help.
Over 1000 cookies for our soldiers have been baked and distributed this week. Toys and games have been collected for children in the south of Israel who have been spending most of their time in the miklatim (bomb shelters). Clothing and supplies as well as food and fresh pizza pies have been disturbed to our soldiers who are stationed near the border of Gaza. Families in Jerusalem are hosting children from the south to help give them a vacation from the rockets. The Jerusalem Tennis Center camp is admitting children from the south at no charge and the list goes on…
Doron Hanin z”l, 37, and Israeli father of three was killed on Tuesday evening by Gaza mortar fire at the Erez crossing while delivering food and drinks to the soldiers who were awaiting a possible ground invasion into the Gaza strip.
Doron was a model of what the tribes of Gad and Reuven described in Bamidbar 32:32: “We will cross over Chalutzim (as pioneers) before God.”
May we hear good news in the coming days.
The Battles We Fight Each Day Print E-mail
Friday, 22 July 2011

In Parshat Matot, Bamidbar 31:21, after the soldiers returned from the war with Midian the pasuk says: “Elazar HaCohen said to the soldiers who came to the war (habaim lamilchama): This is the statute of the Torah which God commanded Moshe…”


Why does it say that the soldiers “came to the war” if the war with Midian was already over? Shouldn’t it say that the soldiers “came from the war”?


Rabbi M.M of Kotzk answers that the physical war with Midian was over, but now they will begin to embark on a new war, a spiritual war against the inclination to transgress the mitzvoth of the Torah.


Yitav Lev adds that after a victory the soldiers may become haughty and therefore they will have to pay special attention to work on fighting this haughtiness. In the next few psukim, we learn about purifying utensils (hagalat kelim). Just as we have to remove the impure and unkosher from the utensils, so too do we have to take out any haughtiness in our character.


Shaar Bat Rabim answers the question of the Ramban of why we weren’t commanded in purifying utensils after the battles of Sichon and Og which took place previously. The answer is that in the battle against Midian, Moshe sent 12,000 soldiers who were carefully selected based on their righteousness. There was therefore more of a chance for them to get haughty. By being taught about purifying their vessels, they received the covert message that they must remove negativity and pollution from their souls.


Each victory against evil is a time to rejoice, but we must remember that the salvation is from God and instead of becoming haughty, we should look for more places to help continue to make the world a better place.


Plant a Tree in Israel! http://support.jnf.org/site/TR/Events/SecurePages?px=3090178&pg=personal&fr_id=1010

Morality and the IDF Print E-mail
Friday, 17 July 2009

In Parshat Matot (Bamidbar 31:3), we read “Moshe spoke to the people saying: ‘Hechaltzu me’itchem anashim letzava’, Arm men from among yourselves for the army that they may go against Midian…”


Rav Moshe of Koznich comments on the words ‘Hechaltzu meitchem’: There are many dangers that are connected with war: the cruelty of war, vengeance, lust for robbing and abuse. The soldier must remove himself from personally getting involved in these situations and he should remember that the reason that they went to war was because God wanted them to take revenge against the Midianites for getting B’nai Yisrael involved in idol worship and other immoral acts.


Rashi explains that the meaning of the word ‘anashim (people)’ is ‘tzadikim (righteous people)”. The soldiers to be chosen must be righteous people.


In the State of Israel today, we have many Dati-Leumi, National Religious soldiers who choose to participate in a Hesder program where they spend time learning in a Yeshiva combined with serving in the IDF. These soldiers are good people who often go on to serve in the elite units. As well, the soldiers in the IDF go through rigorous training on issues of sensitivity and morality, leading them to remove themselves as much a possible from any opportunity of abuse.Unfortunately, the media preys on the few IDF soldiers who are accused of going off track in their duty.


The armies of the countries of the world should aspire to reach the heights of our Israel Defense Forces.

With Honor Comes Responsibility Print E-mail
Thursday, 24 July 2008

Parshat Matot (Bamidbar 30:2-3) begins with the words “Moshe spoke to the tribal leaders (Roshei HaMatot) of B’nai Yisrael saying: ‘This is the word that God has commanded. If a man makes a vow to God or makes an oath to obligate himself, he may not profane his word (lo yachel dvaro). He shall do all that he said.”

The Chatam Sofer asks the following question: Why is the Parsha concerning vows and promises (including the words “he may not profane his word”) mentioned to the heads of the tribes? He answers that most of the time the heads of the tribes, the leaders, are the ones who vow and promise and don’t follow through on their promises. The leaders are the ones who have to change their ways and be careful about what they say and promise, therefore the warning was directed at them.

We see this all too often throughout the world. Politicians will make promises in order to get elected and then once elected they either do not follow through or they do exactly the opposite of what they promised. However, as it says in the Parsha “He may not profane his word. He shall do all that he said.” We must expect more and we should raise our standards.

Rashi states that the tribal leaders were given the special privilege of being taught the laws of vows before the rest of B’nai Yisrael. The tribal leaders were also granted the honor of being able to nullify vows individually (usually three men were needed to annul a vow).

With honor comes responsibility.

As many congregations recite each Shabbat in the Prayer for the Welfare of the Government “May God sustain them and protect them from every trouble, woe and injury, may He rescue them and put into the heart of all of their counselors compassion to do good with us…”

All Jews are Responsible for One Another Print E-mail
Thursday, 12 July 2007

In Parshat Matot, the tribes of Reuven and Gad approach Moshe with a request (Bamidbar 32:5): “If we have found favor in your eyes, let this land (the east bank of the Jordan) be given to your servants as a possession. Do not bring us over the Jordan (to the Land of Israel proper).” Moshe’s reaction was: “Should your brothers go out to war while you settle here?”

According to Tiferet Yehonatan, Moshe is asking: “When your brothers who are living in the Land of Israel go to war, when the enemies attack Israel, should you remain seated in your comfortable homes in the Diaspora?” The war that protects Israel is not just for those who live in Israel, it is the fight for the existence of all of the Jewish people, wherever they may be in the world.

This week marks a year since the second war in Lebanon. Last year we saw many Jews who live in the Diaspora come to Israel during the war and help out any way that they could. They didn’t just sit back and say “I don’t live there so it isn’t my problem”. Jews living in Israel who were not directly affected by the war also went out of their way to help those who were directly affected including hosting total strangers for weeks in their small apartments.

Today, there is much that can still be done to help. Many residents of Sderot are still afraid to go back home. Many residents of Gaza who were evacuated two years ago still do not have a permanent place to live. One third of Israeli children live under the poverty line and unfortunately the list can go on and on.

Let’s hope that we will see true peace in Israel and that our worst problems will be which beaches have jellyfish and which synagogue (out of thousands) will we choose to pray at on the high holidays.