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Mosaic of 12 Tribes

In contrast to Reuven, we have little information about Gad beyond their request to live on the East bank of the Jordan, and thus will have to work harder at looking for clues regarding their characteristics and motivations. Fortunately, the Trans-Jordan narrative gives us much insight into them.

We begin by noting the one verse of narration preceding the actual conversation between Moshe and the tribal leaders: “The sons of Reuven had much livestock, and the sons of Gad had very much.”[1] We can understand this verse to mean that although Reuven also had much livestock, Gad had an unusually great amount.[2] How the tribe of Gad amassed their property is an interesting point of conjecture, but more to the point is the clear interest they must have had in the accumulation of such wealth. Accordingly, one needs to ask why Gad seems to have been the only tribe with such an interest. It is possible that others were also interested but simply didn’t succeed. Yet putting Gad’s tremendous wealth together with various other indications brought the rabbis to the conclusion that this tribe had an atypically materialist streak.[3]


In fact, it may not be so difficult to uncover the motivation for Gad’s likely materialism. Wealth has traditionally been the great equalizer. It is what has allowed those lacking in pedigree (aristocracy) or in accomplishments (meritocracy) to attain power and influence. Given Gad’s unusual assignment as the rearguard of Degel Reuven, and considering that it was the only tribe that stemmed from one of the maidservants to be in a formation with tribes descended from either Rachel or Leah, we should not be surprised that they wanted to find a way to gain some prestige. We can only speculate about the relationship between the tribes of Reuven and Shimon and the tribe of Gad, but it is likely that Gad felt acute social disparity and discomfort.

Yet if wealth is the easiest road to establish parity with aristocrats, it is not necessarily the only one. Moshe’s eventual blessing to Gad[4] indicates that the tribe could have also tapped into its courage and military prowess, that it had shown when offering to go from rearguard to vanguard in the fight for the Land of Israel.[5] (Again we are assuming that what we hear from Gad and Reuven is coming primarily from Gad.) Yet even if Moshe’s blessing strengthened the nobler tendency he saw in Gad, it apparently did not completely replace their materialistic streak. As such, his blessing might have paradoxically made matters worse, since prowess alongside materialism is a dangerous combination: the same fearlessness used to settle conflicts on the battlefield can also be used, with too much force, to settle the many internal conflicts generally endemic to a materialistic society. It should therefore come as no surprise that the Talmud mentions the unusually high level of manslaughter in Gad.[6]

Our closer look at the tribe of Gad reveals to us the dual edged nature of a person’s or a group’s strong dedication and drive. Such focused effort can lead to a marked improvement in their circumstances and can also make them ideal soldiers in a larger cause. But it can also serve to unduly mire them in materialism and, worse yet, draw out their more violent tendencies.

[1] Bamidbar 32:1.

[2] See Netziv and R. S.R. Hirsch, Bamidbar 32:1.

[3] Bamidbar Rabba 22:7, 9. Granted. the rabbis mention this as a trait common to Reuven as well here. One of the major textual observations that leads to this conclusion is stated in the latter midrash: whereas these tribes told Moshe they would first secure their livestock and children before helping in the campaign to conquer the Land of Israel, Moshe changes the order telling them that they should indeed first secure their children and their livestock. In other words, Moshe’s change in order is seen as a rebuke of their distorted prioritization of their property over their children.

[4]…blessed be He that enlarges Gad; he dwells as a lioness, and tears the arm, even the crown of the head. Devarim 33:20.

[5] Bamidbar 32:17.

[6] See Makkot 9b–10a. The Talmud asks why out of six formal cities of refuge (which are designed to shelter those guilty of inadvertent killing), three are in Transjordan.

{This Dvar Torah was adapted by Harry Glazer from the chapter, Reuven and Gad – the Two Lost Tribes, in Rabbi Francis Nataf’s book – Redeeming Relevance in the Book of Numbers: Explorations in Text and Meaning}


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Rabbi Francis Nataf ( is a veteran Tanach educator who has written an acclaimed contemporary commentary on the Torah entitled “Redeeming Relevance.” He teaches Tanach at Midreshet Rachel v'Chaya and is Associate Editor of the Jewish Bible Quarterly. He is also Translations and Research Specialist at Sefaria, where he has authored most of Sefaria's in-house translations, including such classics as Sefer HaChinuch, Shaarei Teshuva, Derech Hashem, Chovat HaTalmidim and many others. He is a prolific writer and his articles on parsha, current events and Jewish thought appear regularly in many Jewish publications such as The Jewish Press, Tradition, Hakira, the Times of Israel, the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Action and Haaretz.