“Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: To these shall the Land be divided as an inheritance, according to the number of the names. For the numerous one you shall increase its inheritance, and for the fewer one you shall lessen its inheritance; each one according to his count shall his inheritance be given. Only by lot shall the Land be divided, according to the names of their father’s tribes shall they inherit. According to the lot shall one’s inheritance be divided, between the numerous and the few.”
(Bamidbar Chapter 26 Verses 52-56)
Abarbanel in his commentary to Sefer Yehoshua asks the following question: How in fact was the Land divided?
If the Land was divided into equal portions, the large tribe receiving the same quota of land as the smaller tribe then not only would it be extremely unfair, it would also contradict one of the verses as quoted above – “For the numerous one you shall increase its inheritance, and for the fewer one you shall lessen its inheritance; each one according to his count shall his inheritance be given”. In the parasha of Masei (Bamidbar Chapter 33 Verse 54) we are similarly instructed: “…to the many you shall increase its inheritance and to the few you shall decrease its inheritance”.
Indeed, if the dividing of the Land equally was a Divine commandment, how could the tribe of Yosef complain to Yehoshua after having received “a small lot for so many people”? If that was the command of Hashem, who are the tribe of Yosef to challenge that instruction?
Yet, on the other hand, if we were to suggest that the dividing of the Land was in fact relative to the numbers of each tribe as our verses seemingly imply, then we have a difficulty in understanding the meaning of the blessing given by Yaakov to the sons of Yosef – Efraim and Menashe. In his blessing to Efraim and Menashe (Bereishit Chapter 48 Verses 5 and 6), Yaakov tells his grandchildren that they will be as Reuven and Shimon regarding portions of the Land – i.e. – they will receive double the amount of Land, but if each tribe gets its portion in accordance to its size, then there is no real difference if the tribe of Yosef is considered as two or as one, they will still essentially receive the same amount of Land? And if they did in fact get a double portion, why did the tribe of Yosef consequently complain that they had received only a small portion of Land?
Indeed if the land was to be split equally amongst twelve tribes, the way in which Yehoshua actually split the Land was not in accordance with the Divine instruction. Yehoshua, firstly gave portions to Yehuda and Yosef, and then divided the Land between the remaining seven tribes (the Land on the other side of the Jordan had already been allocated by Moshe).
In answering the above questions we have a number of suggested approaches: Rashi in his commentary to parashat Pinchas writes that each tribe was allotted Land in relation to its size, and even though this was the case, the allocation was still done by lots, and the lots were directed by Divine inspiration. Quoting the Gemara in Bava Batra (122a) Rashi explains that Eleazar the Kohen Gadol was clothed in the Urim Vethumim, and he firstly declared, prophetically, that ‘If such and such a tribe comes up, such and such a territory shall come up with him’. The names of the tribes were written on twelve tablets and those of twelve areas on twelve tablets. They mixed them in an urn, and the prince of a tribe inserted his hand in and took out two tablets. There came up in his hand the tablet bearing the name of his tribe and the tablet relating to the district that had previously been declared by Eleazar by way of the Urim and Vetumim. The lot itself cried out saying: ‘I, the lot, have come up for such and such a district for such and such a tribe’.
Rashi adds that the Land was not divided by measurement alone, because clearly, one district is superior to another, but it was divided by estimating its fertility.
In conclusion, Rashi explains how the Land was consequently divided up within the tribes. He notes that Scripture treated this inheritance differently to all other inheritances mentioned in the Torah, for in all other inheritances the living become heirs to the dead, whilst here the dead become heirs to the living. For example: Two brothers who came out from Egypt, and had sons at least twenty years old at the time of entry into Eretz Yisrael. One brother had one son, the other had three sons. The one son took one portion; whilst the other three sons took three portions – four portions in all. The four portions were then evenly distributed between the two fathers, two portions each. They were then redistributed amongst the sons; thus, the one son received two portions from his father, whereas the other three sons were left with two portions to be equally divided between them from their father. In this way Rashi reconciles between two seemingly conflicting verses: One verse implies that the Land is divided in accordance with those entering Israel, the other verse implies that the Land was divided in accordance with the family numbers when leaving Egypt.
Ramban comments that there were in fact two separate allocations. The first division was a division of the Land of Israel into twelve equal areas, and each tribe received an equal portion irrespective of its size.
Having split the Land up equally, a sub division then took place within each tribe. This sub division was in relation to the differing sizes of each family in the tribe. Thus the verse allocating Land in accordance with the size is not referring to the division between tribes, which was done equally, but rather referring to the internal division within a tribe.
Ralbag suggests that the Land was in fact divided into equal sections, but nevertheless Yehoshua had the power to increase or decrease the amount of Land given to each tribe.
Abarbanel suggests that when discussing the dividing of the Land, there are two distinctions that need to be made. Firstly, the area in the country that was given to each tribe as an inheritance. Secondly, the quantity of Land that was to be allocated.
The area was allocated by way of lots in order to avoid internal arguments between tribes who may have wanted to be in one area of the country but were placed in another area of the country. The second division dealt with the quantity of Land, not the location of the inheritance, but the amount of the inheritance. This division was not done by way of lots; this was left in the hands of Yehoshua and Eleazar, who together with the twelve Princes of the tribes would see each tribe, and its populace – the bigger tribe would receive a larger quantity of land, the smaller tribe a smaller quantity of land.
According to this theory, the Land was not equally divided into twelve portions as suggested by the Ramban, and lots as suggested by Rashi did not decide the quantity of land inherited. Abarbanel also disagrees with the suggestion of Ralbag that the Land was equally divided amongst the tribes by the Urim Vetumim, and Yehoshua had the right to adjust the initial division. In reality the Urim Vetumim simply declared a specific area in which a tribe would inherit, and after the initial declaration Yehoshua would divide the area up in relation to the populace of each tribe.
Thus in answering his initial questions, Abarbanel suggests that the verses dealing with allocation in accordance with populace are referring to the exact borders of each tribe. These borders were to be decided by Yehoshua. The verses in Bereishit are thus not referring to the quantity of Land that Efraim and Menashe would receive, but to the fact that as two separate tribes they would be placed in two distinct areas. We can also understand as to why the tribe of Yosef took their complaints to Yehoshua. Yehoshua had allocated them insufficient land, i.e. their real complaint was not about the area of the country that they had been placed in, they knew that this was a Divine inheritance, but about the amount of Land given to them as decided upon by Yehoshua.
It seems both sad on the one hand, and uplifting on the other, to be writing about the division of the Land of Israel between the tribes of Israel – on the Seventeenth of Tammuz. The sadness is obvious, we are reading about a wonderful reality; all of Am Yisrael together in Eretz Yisrael, each tribe in his own allotted area. Yet we are reading about it during the “three weeks”, a period of great sadness in that it reflects that Am Yisrael are not all together in Eretz Yisrael. It reflects chorban, exile, and distance from Hashem. It reflects that we are as of yet not worthy of complete redemption. Yet on the other hand, I feel uplifted, because we seem to be so close to reaching that ideal. For centuries Jews studied the map of Israel without really knowing what was where, without having the ability to live the Torah in the way in which we can live it today. Now when we speak of the Galil we know exactly what we are referring to. The Judean mountains are not a theoretical place described by Rashi, but a reality. There are no “tribes dived into areas” but many of Am Yisrael are now living in Eretz Yisrael, not in the most idyllic way, but in a far more idyllic way than we have lived in for the past two thousand years.
But I am troubled now as I have been for the last few years when this time of year comes around. The “three weeks” seems to have become an integral part of the Jewish calendar. Our approach to the 17th of Tammuz and the Ninth of Av is not dissimilar to our approach to Yom Kippur. People have beautiful Kinnot, and special chairs set aside for Tisha BeAv. Yet to my mind we are very much mistaken in this approach.
As a person who “plans ahead” in general, in regard to these days I do not plan at all. Obviously one reminds oneself of the Halachik ramifications of the period, but all in all, I am always waiting and hoping that these days will not arrive. I will not eat my egg until the last minute before the fast of Tisha BeAv begins. I do not want an “easy fast”, I do not want a fast at all. Tisha BeAv is not Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is a wonderful day, a day of spiritual elevation, a day of absolute mercy, a day that reflects the eternal relationship of love between Hashem and Am Yisrael.
Tisha BeAv, on the other hand, is a day of mourning, a day of devastation. It is a day that reflects our failures in the most absolute way; it is in fact an indictment of our people. It is not meant to be part of our calendar. Its arrival each year reminds us once again that we are not yet worthy of Mikdash, that however close we may be, we are not close enough.
When we arrive in shamayim after 120 years, we will be asked: “Did you yearn for redemption”. This is a question that every one of us must ask himself here and now.
Do we really yearn for redemption?
Do we dream of the days when we will all be here together in our Homeland living bederech HaTorah?
Do we dream about the kind of spiritual elevation that we will get when we attend the Mikdash on Yom Kippur, and see the Kohen HaGadol emerge from the Holy of Holies?
Do we yearn that Mashiach come immediately?
Are we prepared to leave the exile at a moments notice to come home?
The minute that we can all answer in the affirmative to the above questions, I truly believe that on that day, Tisha BeAv as we now know it will cease to exist.
So as we enter the three weeks once again, let us look into our Parasha. Let us remember how Yehoshua divided the Land. Let us remember the splendor of the days of Shlomo Hamelech. And let us yearn, we must yearn, as we have never done before, that this year be the last Tisha BeAv, that these be the last three weeks of mourning for Am Yisrael. Let us work fervently towards the removal of these days from our calendar, that they be replaced with days of absolute happiness.
As soon as we really appreciate why we are mourning, as soon as we rectify the sins for which we were exiled, as soon as we really mourn en masse as the Chafetz Chaim did, then I believe with a complete belief that our final redemption will come immediately.
Let us say together with real intent and absolute belief:
Leshana Habaa BiYerushalayim Habenuya.