The descendants of Gad and the descendants of Ruvain came… they said, “if it pleases you, let this land be given to your servants as a dwelling; do not take us across the Jordan.” (Bamidbar 32:2,5)
Two and a half tribes ask for their portion of land in this week’s parsha. The land they get, though, is outside of the actual border of Eretz Yisrael. The reason the Torah gives for them taking the land is because they had much cattle and therefore needed a place for the animals to graze. Last year, I heard a lecture from Rav Eli Mansour which offers a different reason.
Eretz Yisrael is complete holiness and therefore to be able to be apportioned land during that time period, a person needed to be completely holy. These two and a half tribes had a slight blemish and this is why they were not allowed to settle in the Land. To understand the blemish, we need to look at the history of these tribes.
Yaakov at the age of 84 got married. He thought he was getting married to Rochel, but his wicked father-in-law pulled a trick. Hidden under the veil was Leah. From that first night, Leah had a child and named him Ruvain. But there is a blemish against Ruvain because Yaakov’s thoughts were for Rochel, but he was really with Leah. This slight blemish is why Ruvain could not be granted land in Eretz Yisrael.
Gad had a similar situation. Rochel saw she was not having children so she gave to Yaakov her handmaid, Bilhah. Bilhah gave Yaakov children so Leah decided to give her handmaid to Yaakov, but she originally never told Yaakov that she was going to do this. Therefore, Yaakov thought he was with Leah, but it was really Zilpa, Leah’s handmaid. Gad was born from this night and this caused the tribe of Gad to have a slight blemish.
Dina was abused by a non-Jewish man named Shechem and from this act a baby girl named Osnos was born. Yosef was sold to Egypt and married Osnos. Yosef and Osnos had 2 children, Menashe and Ephraim. Yosef was considered 100% Jewish because both parents were Jewish. Although Osnos was definitely Jewish because her mother was Jewish, 50% of her came from a non-Jew (Shechem). Therefore, one fourth of the children of Yosef and Osnos had a non-Jewish connection (there were 4 grandparents and one was not Jewish). Therefore, one fourth of the tribes from Yosef and Osnos had a slight blemish… that was half of the tribe of Menashe.
Even if you did not understand the above calculations, here is the important thing – Moshe knew that these two and a half tribes had a slight blemish and therefore they could not settle in Eretz Yisrael. So, then why does Moshe argue with them? These tribes come to Moshe and ask to settle on the east side of the Jordan River. Moshe starts a whole speech saying that they are wicked for wanting to do this and they are as bad as the Meraglim (Spies from Parshas Shelach). Eventually, Moshe finally agrees with them when they say they will join the fight to conquer Eretz Yisrael. But why didn’t Moshe just say to them, “Good. Because you were going to need to settle on the other side of the Jordan River anyway and not be allowed to settle in Eretz Yisrael.”
The reason is because Moshe did not want to embarrass them. Imagine if Moshe said to them that they were blemished and that they could not settle in Eretz Yisrael. They would have been so embarrassed that they would want to dig a grave and jump inside it. Moshe had the whole argument with them so it looked to these tribes that they made the decision to live outside of the actual borders of the Land. They did not even realize that they had a blemish and no one else did either.
What a great lesson we can learn from this! We have to be extremely careful not to embarrass others.
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