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Jacob’s Grandsons and the Division of the Land

December 8, 2013

Numbers 26 lists the various tribal families that existed among the twelve tribes at the time of the second census, in the last year of their journey between Egypt and Canaan. Aside from the fact that the families are enumerated, this census differs from the first, recorded in Numbers 1 and 2, in that it is followed by the following command:

53 ‘Unto these the land shall be divided for an inheritance according to the number of names. 54 To the more thou shalt give the more inheritance, and to the fewer thou shalt give the less inheritance; to each one according to those that were numbered of it shall its inheritance be given. 55 Notwithstanding the land shall be divided by lot; according to the names of the tribes of their fathers they shall inherit. 56 According to the lot shall their inheritance be divided between the more and the fewer.

A variety of opinions existed among our sages as to how these last verses were to be interpreted. (Bava Bathra, 117) However, all consider that no matter how the land was to be divided, whether somehow among only those counted later, or only those counted earlier, or somehow both, those counted in the latter census all did end up acquiring homesteads in Canaan.

It is interesting to note that Serah, Asher’s daughter, is both Jacob’s only granddaughter mentioned by name as having descended to Egypt and among those counted in the latter census. Indeed, one sources claims that she lived to enter the land after the Exodus (Sotah 13a).

I believe that perhaps Moses was given instructions to arrange the people according to sub-tribal families in preparation for allotting the land even after the first census, but because that generation never entered the land, the specific arrangements and one time command about apportionment were not recorded for posterity.

It is worth remembering that Joseph’s brothers and their children began to make the land of Canaan their own, and it was only because of their failings in the eyes of God that they were punished with exile to Egypt. Thus, the lands that they had cultivated and taken hold of were abandoned and taken by the gentiles, much like what happened to the land during subsequent exiles. Those listed in Genesis 46 were the descendants of Jacob alive at the time of the descent to Egypt who had already begun to receive the divine gift of the land, and they were to be replaced centuries later by those in Numbers 26. That is why other grandchildren of Jacob are not listed in Genesis 46: they had never been part of the generation that had settled the land. Serah, as the only woman who would both leave the land and return, is thus the only woman entitled to her very own piece of land. Every woman of the generation that left Egypt or returned to the land would somehow receive her share of the land through either her husband or her male children, but Serah alone was able to make the claim that she had already had her own stake in the land, and was thus entitled to her own upon her return.

I believe that this approach answers all the difficulties raised here, especially the question about Jacob’s other granddaughters and maybe daughters. I believe that it is very clear that Leah only had one daughter and that Rachel only had two sons, and that there is no reason to believe that either Bilha and Zilpa had daughters. Any of Billha and Zilpa’s theoretical daughters or Jacob’s certain granddaughters, foremost among them Jochebed, being left of the list is merely because they would not make it back to the land and thus are not included in the list of those who lost the land. I agree with the author’s main conclusion, I just disagree with why Dina and Serah are on the list: Dina because she was the only daughter, and Serah because she was only one who would make it back.


From → original, parasha

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