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Shabbat Parashat Matot 5774

Parashat Hashavua: The East Banks Big Four

Harav Yosef Carmel

The latter portions of Sefer Bamidbar deal significantly with the beginning of the Israelite inhabitation of the areas east of the Jordan River, including the regions of the Gilad and the Bashan (these regions are today in North West Jordan, Southern Syria and the Golan Heights). These lands were home to, in addition to the interspersed cities of Kohanim and Levi’im, significant populations of four tribes: Menashe, Binyamin, Ephrayim, and Yehuda (Reuven and Gad were to the south). Three of these tribes are mentioned together with the Gilad in Tehillim (60:9): “To me (David) is Gilad and to me is Menashe; and Ephrayim is the strength of my head; Yehuda is my lawgiver.” Our claim of significant representations from these four tribes in these regions emerges from a study of several references throughout Tanach, which we will now explore.

Although the request to receive the land to the east of the Jordan was attributed to Reuven and Gad, not Menashe, the Torah tells that the result was that sections were given to half of the Tribe of Menashe, as well (Bamidbar 32:31-33). (In Hemdat Yamim-Hebrew, Devarim 5762 we dealt with the question of how this happened). The Chizkuni says that since Yosef, Menashe’s father, caused his brothers to rip their clothes, when they believed that Binyamin was to be enslaved, their portion of the Land was “ripped” into two parts.

In Divrei Hayamim (I, 7:6-15) it says that sons of Binyamin married daughters of Machir, from the Tribe of Menashe, and settled in the Menashe region of the East. In Sefer Yehoshua, we see that the Tribe of Ephrayim received its portion in the Shomron, in the middle of the main Land of Israel, west of the Jordan. Yet, we find them appearing elsewhere. The warrior/leader Yiftach, who came from Gilad, quarreled with the members of Ephrayim, and 42,000 defeated members of Ephrayim tried to flee across the Jordan, but were trapped and killed. We see from this whole episode that there was a large contingent of Ephrayimites living in the Gilad region. In Shmuel (II, 18:6) we find that David fled across the Jordan to the eastern side and was pursued by his rebellious son, Avshalom. The sides waged battle in a place called the Forest of Ephrayim. This is further evidence of a serious inhabitation of Ephrayim in this region.

A final tribe we discover in this region is Yehuda. Chetzron, the oldest son of Peretz, the son of Yehuda, married the daughter of Machir, from Menashe. One of their grandchildren was Yair, who established 23 cities in the Gilad (Divrei Hayamim I, 2:21-22).

While most of this region is now outside the borders of the State of Israel, we should be aware that not only in Biblical times, but in the course of many more recent generations, there were active Jewish communities in these regions to the east of the Jordan and the Kinneret.

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