Avraham ben Yaakov



As Rashi notes on this verse, the tribe of Shimon was "second" after Benjamin, the first of the SEVEN tribes that only received their portions AFTER Reuven, Gad and half Menasheh took theirs the east of the Jordan and AFTER the royal tribe of Judah and the first-born Joseph (Ephraim and Menasheh) took theirs to the west of the Jordan. Only after these leading tribes had already taken their portions did Joshua command the remaining seven tribes to send a team of three envoys each to make a survey of the rest of the Land in order to receive their portions (see ch 18 v 7).

After Benjamin (son of Jacob's beloved Rachel), the remaining tribes out of these seven were - in the order given in our present chapter - Shimon, Zebulun and Issachar (the three other sons of Leah besides Reuven, Levi - who did not receive a portion, and the royal tribe of Judah) followed by Asher (son of Leah's handmaiden Zilpah, as was Gad, who had already taken his portion E. of the Jordan), then Naftali and finally Dan (these last two being the sons of Rachel's handmaiden Bilhah).

The kabbalistic Sefirot corresponding to the tribes are: Judah-Malchus; Issachar-Netzach of Malchus; Zevulun-Hod of Malchus; Reuven-Chessed of Malchus; Shimon-Gevurah of Malchus; Gad-Hod of Malchus; Ephraim-Ateres-Yesod of Zeir Anpin; Menashe-Yesod; Binyamin-Nekudas Tzion; Dan-lowest limb of Hod of Malchus; Asher-heel of Netzach of Malchus; Naftali-lowest limb of Netzach of Malchus.


The tribe of Shimon received their portion from part of Judah 's territory (verse 9) since Judah had taken more territory than required for their population (Rashi ad loc.) This is bound up with the fact that Shimon was something of a maverick tribe - Shimon had gone with Levi to kill the men of Shechem (Genesis 34:25) and while both were criticized by Jacob when he blessed his sons ("accursed is their anger. I shall divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel" Genesis 49:7), Levi was "divided" and "scattered" in an honorable way in the Levitical cities, while Shimon was "divided" and "scattered" amidst the territory of Judah. (This is also bound up with the fact that Zimri ben Saloo Prince of the Tribe of Shimon had flouted Moses in taking the Midianite woman - Numbers 25:6 & 14 -- as a result of which Moses did not give Shimon a blessing.) Nevertheless Shimon did receive Beer Sheva, one of the outstanding features of the land since the time of Abraham and now one of present-day Israel 's most important cities.


These four tribes took their portions in some of the most fertile and beautiful territories of northern Israel . Although many of the locations mentioned in our text cannot be identified conclusively today, there are many that can be identified (including some whose names survive in the present-day Arab names of the associated villages), and the general areas in which each tribe took their portions can be discerned until today.

Yissachar and Zevulun took their portions around the Valley of Yizre'el and the Lower Galilee respectively, while Asher and Naftali took theirs in the Upper Galilee, with Asher to the west alongside the Mediterranean coast and Naftali to the east running all the way to the upper Jordan valley. After the time of Joshua, a contingent from the tribe of Dan took a portion in between Asher and Naftali around the sources of the River Jordan (Tel Dan, Banyas), although Dan's main portion was in the center of Israel (Tel Aviv-Jaffo etc. - see below). Dan's joining Asher and Naftali in the Galilee is bound up with their having been neighbors in the Israelite camp in the Wilderness (Numbers 2:25-31).

The locations in which the tribes were to take their portions had already been indicated allusively in Jacob's blessings to his sons and in Moses' blessings to the tribes.

Zevulun's portion was around Yokne'am (mentioned explicitly in today's text) including present-day Zichron Yaakov. Although the coastal region from Mt. Carmel and northwards was in the territory of Asher, Zevulun also jutted into Asher's portion in order to take a share in the coastal region in fulfillment of Jacob's blessing that "he shall be by the coast and his flank shall reach to Sidon" (Genesis 49:13).

Our text indicates that the territories of the three tribes of Zevulun, Issachar and Naftali all met at Mt. Tabor . In the light of Rabbi Nachman's teaching that all of the names in our chapters allude to parts of the human body (as discussed in the commentary on Joshua ch 15) it is interesting to examine Rashi's comment on our text, Joshua 19:12, speaking about where Zevulun's portion touched Mt. Tabor . " And it turned from Sarid eastward toward the sunrising unto the border of CHISLOTH-TABOR ". In the words of Rashi, "I say that CHISLOTH has the connotation of CHESALIM, the flanks - it was not on the peak of the mountain or at its foot but on the slope near the middle towards the back and away from the front in the same way as the flanks stand in an animal. And where it says AZNOTH-TABOR [in verse 34, speaking of where Naftali's portion touched Mt. Tabor ] it means near the head in the place of the ears - OZNAYIM." Note how many anatomical terms Rashi introduces here in speaking about the topography of the Holy Land !!!

Yissachar's territory, as mentioned, included the fertile region of the Yizre'el Valley.

Asher's territory was in the western part of the Upper Galilee including the coastal strip, and extended way up into present-day Lebanon up to Sidon . The portion of Naftali (the letters of whose name, when rearranged, spell out TEFILIN) was in the eastern Upper Galilee in one of the areas of Israel that is most conducive to spiritual ascent, including the beautiful mountain region around Safed and Meiron, the Kinneret (v. 35) and the lush valley of the upper Jordan (v. 34).


The well-known phrase "from Dan to Be'er Sheva" seems to indicate that Dan's portion was located in the NORTH of Israel at the opposite end from Be'er Sheva in the south. However, in fact our text indicates that Dan's main portion was in the CENTER of present-day Israel including the locations of present-day Tel Aviv and Bney Brak - still known as the Dan Region - as well as areas further into the interior as far east as Beit Shemesh, Eshta'ol and Zor'ah, near which the grave of Dan ben Yaakov can be visited until today. (Some may wonder whether Dan's role in the wilderness as the tribe marching at the very rear, gathering in the stragglers, has some relationship to the presence of latter-day Tel Aviv is his portion???)

Dan's additional territory located in the north of Israel around the sources of the River Jordan is mentioned briefly in our text in verse 47. Dan's capture of this territory actually took place after the death of Joshua in the time of Osniel ben Knaz and is described in more detail in Judges ch 18.


With the division of the Land among the tribes complete, it was now left to Joshua to establish the foundations of a society governed by the Torah that he had received from his teacher Moses. The first foundation of a civilized society is the protection of its citizens from violence and particularly from murder. Human beings all have their own interests, which often conflict with those of others, and strife is inevitable in human society. A successful society is one that can keep this inevitable strife under control without its being allowed to get out of hand. This is why the first institution that Joshua laid down after the division of the land was that of the Cities of Refuge for unwitting killers. This was in fulfillment of God's commandment to Moses that three cities of refuge were to be established in Israel proper - the territories west of the Jordan -- and another three in the territories east of the Jordan (Exodus 21:12; Numbers 35:13f; Deuteronomy 4:41-3 & 19:2).

Accidents do occur, and in any society where people are active and busy it can always happen that one person may cause another person's death quite unintentionally. The purpose of the Cities of Refuge is to ensure that the accidental killing of one person does not escalate into a bloody cycle in which that person's relatives seek to avenge the death by killing the killer. Torah law provides that intentional murder must be punished with the death penalty, but the unintentional killer can take refuge in one of the Cities of Refuge in order to live securely while repenting for the unintended tragedy that came about because of what may have been some element of negligence on his part.

In the words of Rambam (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Murder 4:9) "While there are sins that are more serious than bloodshed, they do not destroy civilization in the same way that bloodshed destroys it." It is profoundly ironic that of the three cities of refuge mentioned in today's text in the Land of Israel proper east of the Jordan , two - Hebron and Shechem (" Nablus ") - have been turned into cities of refuge not for unwitting killers but for willful killers and terrorists. Whether the third of the cities of refuge - Kedesh in the north - can be identified with present-day Safed is a moot point, though it was certainly in the near vicinity.

Let us pray that the tranquil spirit of Safed will spread to all the inhabitants of the Holy Land , and that sanity will return so that willful killers and terrorists are duly punished and unwitting killers sent into exile in order that ordinary law-abiding citizens may once again live securely without fear in a state of true peace.



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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