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.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Parshat Mattot-Massei

Moshe and the Transjordan

Moshe was not impressed by the request of the tribes of Re'uven and Gad to settle the Transjordan. To him it seemed that they lacked the courage to defeat the Canaanim: "Why do you discourage the children of Israel from crossing over to the land which the Lord has given them?" (Bemidbar 32:7).

They responded that this was not their intention. On the contrary to prove their courage and determination to defeat Canaan, they offered to "arm ourselves quickly [and go] before the children of Israel until we have brought them to their place" (ibid 17). Essentially in order to prove that they had the faith they could defeat Canaan and conquer the land, they offered to lead Israel into battle.

Moshe accepts this position making them swear an oath that they would uphold this deal, but he adds one interesting measure: The people had asked: "this land be given to your servants as a heritage - ahuza" (ibid 5) – i.e. as an eternal possession. In this manner, the land would be theirs eternally, never to be taken away.

However, Moshe was concerned that once the land became their ahuza, the tribes could backtrack on their agreement, with no legal redress. Indeed, Moshe says that: "If you do this thing…this land will become your ahuza before the Lord…But, if you do not do so, behold, you will have sinned against the Lord" (ibid 20-23) – implying that the tribes would not be forced to return the land.

Therefore, Moshe adds a clause. While both parties were consistently talking of the land being given as an ahuza, in the end, Moshe just "gave the descendants of Gad and the descendants of Reuben and half the tribe of Manasseh…the land together with its cities within borders, the cities of the surrounding territory" (ibid 33). He did not give it as an ahuza. Yet he commanded, that should they fulfill their side of the bargain, than Elazar should "give them the land of Gilead as an ahuza"… if not than they would merely receive "receive an ahuza among you in the land of Canaan" (ibid 29-30).

As it turns, these tribes did fulfill their side of the bargain (See Yehoshua Ch. 13).

Last years' Sedra Short on Parshat Mattot-Massei, entitled: "Tribe and Tribalism" appears at

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