Avraham ben Yaakov


Following the delineation of Ephraim's inheritance in the previous chapter (16), our text continues with the account of the division of the Land of Israel among the other Tribes, giving the boundaries of Menashe, Joseph's firstborn, in chapter 17. While part of the tribe of Menashe had already taken their inheritance in the territories captured in the time of Moses east of the Jordan (see Joshua ch 13:29-31), the majority of this populous tribe took their share in the Land of Israel proper, to the north of the portion of Ephraim.


When God commanded Moses to divide the Land among the tribes (Numbers 26:52-56), the daughters of Tzelafhad (from the tribe of Menasheh) immediately stepped forward to press their claim for their share since their father had no sons (Numbers 27:1-11; see also Numbers 36:1-13). Under Torah law, daughters inherit their father's estate only when there is no surviving son: if there is a son or sons, the males inherit the entire estate and from it they have to pay to support and marry off their sisters.

Now that Joshua was actually dividing the Land, the irrepressible daughters of Tzelafhad again stand up before Elazar the High Priest and Joshua the king to demand their share. Not only are the daughters of Tzelafhad archetypes of the Israelite women that show even greater love and yearning for the Land than the men. They were also very wise (see Rashi on Numbers 27:4) and their insistence on their rights to the Land brought about the revelation of several portions relating to the Torah laws of inheritance.

An interesting, if somewhat subtle, point relating to these laws comes out of our text today, ch 17 v 5: "TEN shares fell to Menasheh besides the territories of the land of Gil'ad and Bashan east of the Jordan ". Rashi (ad loc.) explains that out of these ten, the daughters of Tzelafhad took FOUR: (1) Tzelafhad's own share as one of those who went out of Egypt, because the Land was divided among those who left Egypt; (2) The share that Tzelafhad took with his brothers in the possessions of his father Heifer, who was also one of those who went out of Egypt; (3) Tzelafhad's "double" share in his father's estate as a firstborn; (4) The share belonging to Tzelafhad's brother, who had died in the wilderness without children.

Rashi concludes: "The verse did not need to tell us about the shares of the daughters except to teach us that they took the share of the firstborn and also to inform us that their share in the Land of Israel was already under their ownership [MUCHZEKES] from the time of their fathers, for if not, there is a legal principle that the first-born does not take a share in property that is not yet part of the estate and merely DUE (RO-OUIY) to come later. The firstborn takes his double share only from property that has already come into the estate (MUCHZAK)." [E.g. the first born would NOT take a share of a debt owing the estate that was uncollected at the time of death of the deceased but only of lands and goods that were already part of the estate.]

To those unfamiliar with the intricacies of Torah law, the above may be somewhat confusing, but what it means is that even before the Land of Israel was actually conquered and occupied by the generation of Joshua, it was already in the POSSESSION (MUCHZAK - under the HAZAKAH, "ownership") of the Children of Israel as an ancestral inheritance from those to whom its ownership had been given by God - the generation that actually left Egypt in the Exodus. The same would apply today. Even though the Children of Israel do not as yet control by any means all of the Promised Land, it is all still their property and belongs to them as an ancestral inheritance.


They were asking for more land because of their numbers. The commentators tell us that these were the Children of Menasheh, who were particularly populous (see Rashi on 17:4), as we learn from the substantial increase in their numbers - by TWENTY THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED -- between the first count of the Children of Israel in the wilderness and the second (Numbers chs 1:35 and 26:34). This was in fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham "Thus - KoH - shall be your seed" (Gen. 15:5). KoH is made up of Kaf (= 20) and Heh (=5) alluding to the TWENTY THOUSAND and the FIVE HUNDRED (Midrash).

Ephraim was less populous. One reason is that according to the Midrash, many of the Bnay Ephraim were killed prior to the Exodus from Egypt when they tried to calculate the time of the redemption but erred. They went up to Israel before the proper time and when they came to Gath to take possession of the Land, the Philistine inhabitants, who had been born there and were therefore familiar with it, overwhelmed and killed them. It was their bones that Ezekiel saw in his vision of the Valley of the Dry Bones. The sources for this fascinating and very suggestive Midrash are Chronicles 1, 7:21: "The sons of Gath who were born in the land killed them (the sons of Ephraim), for they went down to take their possessions, and Ephraim their father mourned them many days and his brothers came to comfort him" (see Metzudos commentary on this verse). See also Sanhedrin 92b and see RaDaK on Ezekiel 37:1.



"And all the assembly of the Children of Israel gathered to Shilo and set up there the Tent of Meeting" (Joshua 18:1).

This was fourteen years after their entry into the Land (RaDaK). The fourteen years consisted of seven years of conquest and seven more dividing up the Land. All this time the Tent of Meeting made by Moses in the wilderness had stood in Gilgal, their first encampment after crossing the Jordan .

Establishing the Sanctuary in Shilo signified more settled times: ".and the Land was conquered before them" (ch 18 v 1): Comments Rashi: "From the time the Sanctuary was established, the Land became easy for them to conquer".

The Sanctuary remained in Shilo for a total of 369 years - until the time of Eli the High Priest, when the Philistines sacked it and took the Ark. Shilo was in the territory of Joseph . It was predestined that the Sanctuary and the Two Temples should stand only in the territories of Rachel's two sons, Joseph and Benjamin. (This is why in Genesis 45:14 it says that on their reconciliation in Egypt , Joseph fell on the NECKS of Benjamin - the Hebrew plural signifies the TWO Temples - while Benjamin wept on Joseph's NECK - the singular alludes to the Sanctuary in Shilo.)

With the conquest of the Land still in progress, the enterprise of turning the Land of Israel into the light of the Nations was still incomplete, and this was signified in the structure of the Sanctuary in Shilo. Our text here calls it a TENT - because the "roof" was made of skins, as in the case of the wilderness Sanctuary. However the walls of Shilo were stone, unlike those of the wilderness Sanctuary, which were made of gold-coated wood. It would only be in Jerusalem - the place of the Temple forever - that the roof of the Temple would also be of stone.

The Sanctuary in Shilo will figure in several important passages in the Book of Judges and particularly in the early part of Samuel dealing with Eli and Hannah. The reference in our text today to Shilo makes a fitting start to the chapter delineating the tribal inheritance of Benjamin, youngest son of Jacob's beloved wife Rachel, nestling as it did between the two great tribes of Judah to the south and Ephraim to the north.

We see from today's text and subsequent chapters that the territories of the different tribes sometimes entered into one another. Similarly, in the human body, the different limbs and organs are closely interconnected and enter into one another.



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
© AZAMRA INSTITUTE 5767 - 2006-7 All rights reserved