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Parasha Notes Pin’has-Matoth-Masei

August 13, 2017

I would like to address the following difficulties in Parashath Pi’nhas:

Why were the tribes of Israel divided into families, and why were all the families listed? What purpose did it serve?

Why were certain women included on the list, namely, the daughters of Zelofhad and Serah the daughter of Asher?

Why were the Levites even mentioned in this latter count, if they were specifically not to receive shares of land? (In the begining of the book, their count was an introduction to their jobs in the Tabernacle, but here no such issue is raised.) Further, why were they divided also among families if they were not to receive real portions, and why is the matter of Aharon’s family reiterated at this point, including the deaths of Nadav and Avihu?

My attempted answers:

The sages and the Rishonim and the Aharonim never arrived at a consensus to resolve the difficulties posed by the commandments to give “more to the greater and less to the smaller,” yet to also divide the land by lot, and to somehow divide the land both among those who actually left Egypt and the next generation that came of age during the 40 years of sojourn (See here for how in Biblical idiom, “those who left Egypt” also refers to those born years after the Exodus.). For the most part, the significance of the families has not been analyzed, nor has there been offered a sufficient set of criteria for what constitutes a family, or who among Jacob’s descendants were privileged to start families.

However, I would like to point out some facts:

Statistically speaking, families ranged in size from about 4,000 souls on average (from the tribe of Simeon) to almost 60,000, from the tribe of Dan. Among Judah, families were on average 15,000, and from Issachar 20,000. Thus, a particular number or range of numbers did not seem to be the criterion. However, it is worth noting that the the tribe of Menashe, which at 50,000 was just about the average size for a tribe (about 601,000 divided by 12), had the most families, eight, and surprisingly enough, according to most maps that seek to draw the borders of the tribes, Menashshe received the most land, and this might have been an impetus for Moses to include part of that tribe in the land grant he gave to Reuben and Gad.

On the other hand, the tribe of Dan numbered some 10,000 more than average, and yet, as described in a number of places in the books of Joshua and Judges, Dan received the smallest portion, and not coincidentally, it only made up a single family. These facts would indicate that families, specifically the numbers thereof, had what to do with how much land a tribe received.

As for the daughters of Zelofhad, most suggest that they were on the list because even though they were women, they received a portion of the land among the men. Now, Rashi says that Serah, Asher’s daughter, or as the Targum has it, step-daughter, was included in the count because she was still alive. The implication is that if other granddaughters of Jacob had also been alive, they would have also been entitled to land. Why should this be? I would suggest that any granddaughters of Jacob would have been entitled to a piece of the land in their own right, because, by definition, they could not be part of any of the tribal families. That is, in Serah’s case for example, it was her brothers who were the founders of the tribal families. (It is obvious that when the Torah says, for example, that someone had a family, and that each of his two mentioned sons also had families, the people included in his family were from all his children who were not those specifically named sons. For example, Peretz had a family, and so did his sons Hetzron and Hamul, so those who remained in the Peretz family were all those descendants of Peretz who were not descendants of Hetzron and Hamul, i.e., from other children not mentioned.) Serah was exceptional in two ways: she was a granddaughter of Jacob, and she had survived, and therefore she was entitled to land in her own right because she was not part of any family (because she could not be a descendant of one of her brothers) although she was a full-fledged member of the tribe. This also explains why in Mattoth we read about how the family of Machir received the Gilead, in the Transjordan, but Jair and Novah, the two other childless sons of Menashe, who by definition could not be part of the tribal families of Menashe, had, like Serah, also miraculously lived well after the Exodus, and seized control of their territories, which they named after themselves (Numbers 32:40-42).

As for the Levites, their families are listed because we need to understand how, in the times of Joshua, the Levites were able to divide themselves up among the 48 cities given to them, and how even though there were only three living kohanim a year after the Exodus, by the time the land and cities were apportioned, the kohanim ended up getting such a large share of the Levitic cities. See also here for an explanation regarding the Levites’ numbers and their familial divisions.


From → original, parasha

One Comment
  1. Hey Avi it is simcha loiterman I did not know you had a blog dude! How are you?

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