Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Parshat Vezot Haberacha

The Disappearance of Shimon

Ancient Israel was a confederation of twelve tribes. Sometimes the number twelve was arrived at by counting all twelve sons of Yaakov, while at other times the tribe of Levi was excluded and Yoseph was counted by his two eldest sons, Menasheh and Ephraim. This is because the tribe of Levi was not awarded any territory, since “the Lord is his inheritance” (Devarim 10:9) and because Yaakov awarded the birthright (i.e. a double portion) to Yoseph, Rachel’s eldest son, saying: “Ephraim and Manasseh, are like Reuben and Simeon; they shall be mine” (Bereshit 48:5).

Indeed, Yoseph was awarded two portions of territory in the Land of Israel, while the Levi’im were not awarded any. They worked in the sanctuary and were awarded cities within the territories of each of the tribes and they acted as the educators of the people and their conduit to God.

In essence therefore, Israel was actually made up of thirteen tribes, however the thirteen tribes were never counted as thirteen, only as twelve; sometimes with Levi with Yoseph counted once and sometimes without Levi, with Yoseph counted twice.

In this week’s parsha, in Moshe’s final address to the people, he blesses each tribe, one by one; “This is the blessing which Moshe the man of God blessed the children of Israel before his death” (Devarim 33:1). However, Moshe only blesses eleven tribes. Levi is blessed and Yoseph, as one tribe, is also blessed. Shimon is not mentioned. What happened to it?

If we look at the two censuses recorded in Sefer Bemidbar we see that the tribe of Shimon was facing extinction. In Bemidbar chapter 1, Shimon numbered a healthy 59,300 (Bemidbar 1:23), however forty years later it had shrunk to 22,200 (ibid 25:14). The rabbis claim that most of the 24,000 people who died in the plague as a result of the worship of Baal Pe’or (ibid 25:9) were from Shimon. This makes sense as the leader of the revolt was Zimri ben Salu, a chieftain of Shimon (ibid 14).

Shimon was not destined to recover from this blow. When Yehoshua divided the land and awarded each tribe their lot, as well as putting Shimon in the far south, the desert portion of Israel, an area of land that was hard to live in, he did not give Shimon an independent lot. Shimon’s portion was within the mighty tribe of Yehuda: “Out of the allotment of the children of Yehuda was the inheritance of the children of Shimon, for the portion of the children of Yehuda was too much for them; therefore the children of Shimon had inheritance in the midst of their inheritance” (Yehoshua 19:9).

When it came to conquering their portions, Yehuda offers support to Shimon: “Yehuda said to Shimon his brother: 'Come up with me into my lot, that we may fight against the Canaanites; and I likewise will go with you into your lot.' So Simeon went with him” (Shoftim 1:3). Under these circumstances, Shimon got swallowed up by his more influential brother and became integrated into Yehuda. Indeed, Shimon is not mentioned again on the Bible after the initial conquest of Canaan.
It seems that Yaakov’s deathbed testimony was fulfilled: “Shimon and Levi are brethren…I will divide them in Yaakov, and scatter them in Israel” (Bereshit 49:5-7). Both Levi and Shimon were incorporated into the rest of Israel. However, while Levi became God’s portion and maintained its identity, Shimon assimilated into Yehuda and was never heard of again.


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