In this week’s parshah, the tribes of Reuven, Gad, and half of Menasheh request to remain on the eastern side of the Jordan. A cursory review of their request gives us insight into why these particular tribes tried to remain outside Israel.
Reuven was, of course, the first son of Yaakov. When the brothers returned from Egypt and told their father that the viceroy (who was really Joseph) insisted they bring brother Binyamin to Egypt before they would be given more food, Reuven steps forward. Turning to his father he declares: “If I do not bring Binyamin back you can kill my two sons.” Yaakov rejects Reuven’s overture (Genesis 42:37-38).
Only after Yehudah comes forward saying he would be a surety for Binyamin does Yaakov relent.
The difference between Yehudah and Reuven is obvious. Yehudah assumes responsibility. He expresses a total commitment to Binyamin and is ready to put himself on the line if he fails. Not so Reuven. He guarantees Binyamin’s safety by using his children as collateral rather than himself.
Not surprisingly the children of Reuven who don’t understand the message of areivut, of caring for others, bear children and a tribe that prefers to remain apart from Israel.
Gad is one of the children of Zilpah, Leah’s handmaid. He is described as being very strong. In the words of Yaakov’s blessing as explicated by Rashi: Troops (armies) shall be found of Gad (Genesis 49:19). Still, when Joseph is sold Gad does not come forward to protect him. Here again, it is understandable that Gad becomes a tribe that asks to live outside Israel.
Menasheh is the eldest son of Joseph. When he is born Joseph calls him Menasheh, “For God has made me forget (nashani, the root of Menasheh) all my toil and all my father’s house” (Genesis 42:51). Here is a description of one who breaks with his home. Not coincidentally, Menasheh’s children wish to separate from Israel.
Moshe tells the two and a half tribes that they may live outside Israel but only after they first help conquer and settle the land. Here Moshe teaches the message of areivut to those who come from a tribe where the sense of caring is missing. And these tribes get the message. They lead the way in helping liberate the land. They were able to turn around the lack of areivut in their family history into a sense of real commitment to the Jewish people.
An important message, especially now, for Jews in the Diaspora – in times of need we should, like the two and a half tribes, run to Israel rather than from Israel.
About the Author: Rabbi Avi Weiss is founding president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and senior rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. His memoir of the Soviet Jewry movement, “Open Up the Iron Door,” was recently published by Toby Press.
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