Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Mattos


Vayomer Moshe livnei Gad v’livnei Reuven ha’acheichem yavo’u l’milchama v’atem teishvu poh v’lama se’niun es lev B’nei Yisroel me’avor el ha’aretz asher nasan lahem Hashem (32:6-7)

At the end of Parshas Chukas, the Jewish people conquered the lands of Sichon and Og, which were just across the Jordan River to the east of the land of Israel proper. In this week’s parsha, the tribes of Gad and Reuven approached Moshe with a request. They noticed that these lands were particularly well-suited for raising animals. As these two tribes were blessed with an abundance of livestock, they asked for permission to receive and settle this area as their portion in the land.

Moshe responded harshly, questioning why their brethren should go to battle to conquer the rest of the land of Israel while they remain behind living comfortably. He also argued that their actions could dissuade the rest of the Jews from wanting to enter and conquer the land, in a manner similar to the negative report brought back by the spies.

The tribes of Gad and Reuven clarified their intentions, explaining that after they built cities for their families and animals in this region, they would join the rest of the Jews in the battle for the land of Israel proper. Only after it was fully conquered and settled by their brethren would they return to their families. Upon hearing this, Moshe agreed to their request, but only after making a legally-binding agreement with them.

            The commentators explain that the two tribes always intended to assist in the conquest of Israel, but because they didn’t see this point as significant, they didn’t say it explicitly until pressed by Moshe. Why did Moshe accuse them so harshly, and why was it so important to him to make an explicit legal stipulation with the tribes regarding this point?

            In his work Shemen HaTov, Rav Dov Weinberger explains that Moshe recognized their original good intentions. Nevertheless, he was concerned that after they actually built the cities for their families and animals, they would be tempted to reconsider their plans. After 40 years of wandering through the wilderness in pursuit of a stable home, it would be quite natural for them to be tempted to reevaluate their commitment to spend an additional 14 years helping their brethren conquer and settle the land of Israel.

To prevent this from occurring and to keep their actions consistent with their original intentions, Moshe insisted on making an explicit and binding agreement with them. Only if they fulfilled their end of the deal by assisting with the conquest of Israel would they be permitted to keep their land on the east side of the Jordan River.

This explanation brings to mind the following story. The Alter of Novhardok once heard that a certain individual was coming to visit his town. He was in doubt whether it was appropriate for him to go to the train station to greet and welcome the guest. Since it was the middle of the frigid winter, the Alter worried that perhaps he would decide against going not for the right reasons, but because he was motivated by laziness and comfort. To remove this concern, he traveled to the train station and proceeded to make his decision once he was already there.

Many times in life we are confronted with difficult decisions. When weighing the various factors involved, it is important to be aware of our personal biases and to strive to reach conclusions based on pure, unbiased thinking.

Zeh hadavar asher tziva Hashem liv’nos Tzelafchad leimor l’tov b’eineihem tih’yena l’nashim ach l’mishpachas mateh avihem tih’yena l’nashim (36:6)

The Torah requires a daughter who inherits land from her father to marry somebody from her father’s tribe to prevent the ownership of the land from being transferred to another tribe upon her death (36:7-9). Although the Torah seems to require the daughters of Tzelafchad to marry men from their father’s tribe (Menashe) for this reason, the Gemora in Bava Basra (120a) teaches that this wasn’t a commandment, but rather a piece of good advice that Hashem told Moshe to give them. As this section of the Torah was taught in response to the argument of the tribe of Menashe (36:1-4) that the marriage of the daughters of Tzelafchad to men from other tribes would bring about a reduction in the size of their tribal land, why wasn’t this advice indeed made an obligation incumbent upon them?

The Steipler answers by noting that the Rambam rules (Hilchos Nachalos 1:8) that a husband only inherits his wife’s possessions through a later Rabbinical enactment. If one of the daughters of Tzelafchad married a man from another tribe, there was no fear that her land would pass over to him. The only way for the land to pass to another tribe would be in a case where her son, whose tribe is determined by his father, inherits it from her.

The Gemora teaches that each of the daughters of Tzelafchad was already over the age of 40 at this time. The Gemora questions this claim by noting that if it were true, they would no longer be able to biologically bear children. The Gemora answers that although this should have been the case, Hashem made a miracle for them due to their righteousness and allowed them to have children.

In light of this Gemora, it is difficult to understand why the tribe of Menashe argued that the daughters of Tzelafchad shouldn’t be allowed to marry men from other tribes. Their husbands wouldn’t inherit the land, and they weren’t biologically capable of having children who might inherit it. We must conclude that their tribesmen recognized their piety and feared that they may miraculously give birth to sons.

However, this miracle could only take place before Hashem gave the commandment regarding the transfer of tribal property. Once this mitzvah was given, there was no longer any basis for worry. In the event that the daughters of Tzelafchad would ignore Hashem’s preference and marry men from another tribe, they would no longer be considered sufficiently righteous to merit the miraculous birth of sons, which would result in the transfer of their tribal land.

With this understanding, it is now clear that there was no prohibition for the daughters of Tzelafchad to marry men from another tribe. Their husbands wouldn’t inherit their land, and they wouldn’t give birth to sons who could inherit it, thus leaving the land firmly in the hands of their relatives from the tribe of Menashe. Nevertheless, Hashem gave them a piece of “good advice.” If they married men from the tribe of Menashe, they could miraculously merit children, as in that case the children’s inheritance would pose no threat to the ownership of the tribal land.

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 Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     Are vows made by non-Jews binding upon them, and if so, can they be annulled like vows made by Jews? (Yerushalmi Nazir 9:1, Mishneh L’Melech Hilchos Melochim 10:7, Gilyonei HaShas Avodah Zara 5b, Shu”t Avnei Nezer Yoreh Deah 306, Chavatzeles HaSharon)

2)     Rashi writes (31:50) that those who fought the war against Midian offered to Hashem the various pieces of jewelry that they had found in order to effect atonement for sinful thoughts they may have had upon gazing at the Midianite women. Why did they wait to do so until after Elozar taught the laws of koshering utensils and the spoils were divided instead of doing so immediately upon returning from the battle? (Chiddushei HaRim)

3)     Did the tribes of Gad and Reuven have proper intentions when they asked to inherit their portions in the land to the east of the Jordan River? (Daas Z’keinim, Darash Moshe)

4)     The Gemora in Makkos (13a) teaches that an accidental murderer living in one of the six cities of refuge didn’t have to pay rent to his Levite landlord. If there wasn’t enough space in one of the cities of refuge to accompany a new accidental murderer seeking refuge there, may he insist that one of the Levite inhabitants move out to make room for him? (Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, Panim Yafos, Minchas Chinuch 410:13, Ayeles HaShachar 35:7)