The Request of Two… and a Half? by Leo Metzger


In Parashat Matot, we read about a request made by the Shevatim, tribes, of Re’uvein and Gad before Bnei Yisrael cross into Eretz Kena’an. Their request is to settle on the eastern side of the Jordan River and not cross the river, since crossing would involve transporting their expansive herds of animals and the rest of their wealth to the other side of the river. However, their request means that they would effectively be separating themselves from the rest of the nation by living on the other side of the Jordan River.

Moshe consents to the request, but only if they follow a specific set of conditions. The first condition is that they must march as the vanguard of the army for the entirety of the campaign to claim the land of Israel, and that they would not be able to return until the campaign was over. This condition is logical, considering that these tribes were known for their valor and prowess in battle, so much so that if they did not participate in the campaign, the army would have lost a significant fighting force. A more puzzling condition was also set forth. Half of the tribe of Menasheh was to join them in their settlement of that area. This condition seems rather mysterious. Why would another tribe be told to remain on the other side of the Jordan River if it was viewed as a separation from the rest of the nation?

When considering the traits that characterized the tribe of Menasheh, it becomes quite clear, as the tribe was known for its scholarly dispositions and tendencies. The purpose of Menasheh’s presence was to remind the two tribes, who emphasized physical and material success, that even though these ideals were important, if they promoted these ideals without an equal focus on religion and spirituality, the core of their Jewish dogma would become corrupted, and they might wander from the correct path. In addition, since only one half of Sheivet Menasheh was slated to remain on the eastern side of the Jordan, the problem of the two tribes being isolated was also solved, since the half of Menasheh that was on the east side of the river would stay in touch with their relatives on the west side, thus connecting the two groups. Without the presence of Menasheh, the possible loss of direction or isolation would very likely lead to intense conflict between the tribes, and could lead to the eastern tribes wandering off the path of Torah and Mitzvot.

This teaches us an invaluable lesson. We must make sure to surround ourselves with good people, people who will keep us on the right path. Hopefully, these people will influence us and help us grow in our Avodat Hashem.

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