Where was Menashe?
The tribes that settle on the eastern bank of the Jordan are often grouped as a threesome: Reuven, Gad, and half of Menashe. However, a close look at Bemidbar 32, in which they negotiate settling the lands, suggests that this picture might not be accurate. Throughout the discussions with Moshe, it is only Reuven and Gad who play a role,1 while Menashe is conspicuously absent. It is only first in verse 33, after Moshe has already agreed to the request and apportions the lands, that the tribe of Menashe appears in the narrative:
וַיִּתֵּן לָהֶם מֹשֶׁה לִבְנֵי גָד וְלִבְנֵי רְאוּבֵן וְלַחֲצִי שֵׁבֶט מְנַשֶּׁה בֶן יוֹסֵף אֶת מַמְלֶכֶת סִיחֹן מֶלֶךְ הָאֱמֹרִי וְאֶת מַמְלֶכֶת עוֹג מֶלֶךְ הַבָּשָׁן הָאָרֶץ לְעָרֶיהָ בִּגְבֻלֹת עָרֵי הָאָרֶץ סָבִיב.
And Moses gave unto them, even to the children of Gad, and to the children of Reuben, and unto the half-tribe of Manasseh the son of Joseph, the kingdom of Sihon king of the Amorites, and the kingdom of Og king of Bashan, the land, according to the cities thereof with their borders, even the cities of the land round about.
If Menashe was part of the original petition, why are they not mentioned until the end? On the other hand, if they made no request of Moshe, why are they, too, settling the territories? Moreover, as a result of their gaining land on the eastern bank, their portion becomes disproportionately large.2 Why is this justified?
Two other aspects of the narrative serve to differentiate Menashe from Reuven and Gad. After listing the lands which will be apportioned to each tribes, the chapter briefly describes a series of conquests by the clans of Menashe:
(לט) וַיֵּלְכוּ בְּנֵי מָכִיר בֶּן מְנַשֶּׁה גִּלְעָדָה וַיִּלְכְּדֻהָ וַיּוֹרֶשׁ אֶת הָאֱמֹרִי אֲשֶׁר בָּהּ. (מ) וַיִּתֵּן מֹשֶׁה אֶת הַגִּלְעָד לְמָכִיר בֶּן מְנַשֶּׁה וַיֵּשֶׁב בָּהּ. (מא) וְיָאִיר בֶּן מְנַשֶּׁה הָלַךְ וַיִּלְכֹּד אֶת חַוֺּתֵיהֶם וַיִּקְרָא אֶתְהֶן חַוֺּת יָאִיר. (מב) וְנֹבַח הָלַךְ וַיִּלְכֹּד אֶת קְנָת וְאֶת בְּנֹתֶיהָ וַיִּקְרָא לָה נֹבַח בִּשְׁמוֹ.
(39) And the children of Machir the son of Manasseh went to Gilead, and took it, and dispossessed the Amorites that were therein. (40) And Moses gave Gilead unto Machir the son of Manasseh; and he dwelt therein. (41) And Jair the son of Manasseh went and took the villages thereof, and called them Havvoth-jair. (42) And Nobah went and took Kenath, and the villages thereof, and called it Nobah, after his own name.
Why does Menashe have to conquer their own territory? If all three tribes were settling lands previously taken from Sichon and Og, why do Reuven and Gad simply settle their lands, while Menashe must continue to fight? Finally, how are we to understand the mention of Yair and Makhir, the son and grandson of Menashe, who are presumably no longer alive at this stage of the story?