Menashe Joins Reuven and Gad

Exegetical Approaches

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Individual Request

After Moshe finished negotiating with Reuven and Gad and acquiesced to their request to settle in the lands of Sichon, the tribe of Menashe approached with a personal, distinct request to settle the lands of Og.  This position subdivides regarding when the lands requested were conquered:

Present Conquests

Menashe both asked for and conquered their territory in the fortieth year, after Reuven and Gad were granted their request to settle on the eastern bank of the Jordan.

Why did Menashe need to conquer the land? When describing the conquests over Sihcon and Og in Bemidbar 21, the text shares that the lands of Sichon were not just conquered, but also settled by Israel (וַיֵּשֶׁב יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּכׇל עָרֵי הָאֱמֹרִי בְּחֶשְׁבּוֹן וּבְכׇל בְּנֹתֶיהָ).  No such statement is made regarding settling the lands of Og.2 As such, there were likely areas in this northern region that still housed the original inhabitants. This would explain why Reuven and Gad request only the lands of Sichon. It is only Menashe who later adds a request for the lands of Og, as they are willing to finish conquering its cities.3
Why wait? This approach can offer one of two somewhat opposite approaches to this question:
  • It is possible that the tribe of Menashe was wary of Moshe's reaction to a request to settle lands east of the Jordan, recognizing that he might find the petition problematic and a rejection of the Promised Land. They, therefore, decided to wait to gauge his response to Reuven and Gad before asking for their own territory.4
  • Conversely, it is possible that Menashe intentionally separated themselves from the problematic petition of Reuven and Gad, since they viewed their own request, in contrast, as a legitimate one.  Prof. Elitzur5 suggests that the lands of Sichon and Og had very different statuses. While the northern Bashan was considered part of the Promised Land (and thus not problematic to settle), the southern territory of Sichon was not.6
Why did they want the territory?
  • Cattle – It is possible that, like Reuven and Gad, these clans of Menashe also had much cattle and desired the grazing land east of the Jordan. 
  • Intended inheritance – Prof. Elitzur suggests, instead, that the tribes knew of their future inheritances, and Menashe asked for the Bashan because it was his intended portion.7
  • Preempt later problems – Menachem b. Yashar8 raises a similar possibility, but suggests that Menashe was aware only that the region around Shekhem was promised to them.9 Knowing that the area was hilly and not well-suited to agriculture, and, moreover, that the tribe were very numerous, Menashe thought to resolve the issue ahead of time, by requesting an extra inheritance.
Different conditions?
  • It is possible that Moshe does not make Menashe's settlement contingent on joining the rest of the nation in the Conquest, since unlike Reuven and Gad, they were settling areas conquered by themselves and not simply asking to enjoy the benefits of everyone else's work.
  • Alternatively, despite the text's silence, it is possible that Moshe also had Menashe promise to participate in the campaign against Canaan.  This could be supported by the fact that in Sefer Yehoshua, they also go to war.10
Yair and Machir, the sons of Menashe – This position could explain, like Ibn Ezra,Bemidbar 32:40About R. Avraham ibn Ezra that the verse is referring not to Machir or Yair themselves, but rather to their descendants.
What if Rueven and Gad had remained silent? According to Prof. Elitzur, had it not been for Reuven and Gad, the lands of Sichon would probably not have been settled.  The lands of Og, in contrast, would have been apportioned, but perhaps only later, together with the rest of Canaan.
Independence in the Wilderness – The variations of this approach makes one question the level of independence of the tribes in the Wilderness. Did they have permission to go off on their own and make personal conquests?  How would such expeditions have affected the rest of the nation?

Previous Conquests

The cities Menashe requested had been conquered by the tribe of Menashe much earlier, during the era of Yosef's reign in Egypt.

The original conquest
  • According to the student of R. Saadia, the cities mentioned in Bemidbar 32 as being conquered by Menashe,11 had actually been originally conquered centuries before, when Yosef was a vizier in Egypt.12
  • Abarbanel brings a similar opinion that Yosef had bought these lands in the time of the famine. At some point, they were conquered by Ammon, and now that this land was returned to Israel's control, Menashe asked for their rightful inheritance to be returned.
Machir, Yair, and Novach – According to R. Saadia's student, the verses refer not to the descendants of these individuals, but to Menashe's literal sons and grandchildren, as they were the ones who had originally conquered the areas.13
Why did Menashe want the territory? Unlike Reuven and Gad, these families did not want the territory because it was good grazing land but rather because the region had been conquered by and belonged to their ancestors.
Why wait? Since Menashe's claim to the land and request of Moshe had nothing in common  with that of Reuven and Gad, they did not join with them in their petition.
Disproportionate inheritance – The large portion of Menashe is understandable given that they had conquered their territory on their own.
Different conditions? Moshe did not make Menashe's inheritance on the eastern side conditional on joining the Conquest since their claims to the land were centuries old and they were not trying to benefit from the work of others.   In addition, no where did they insinuate that they would not join the nation's campaign, and it might have simply been understood that they were planning to help the nation (and the rest of their tribe) in their conquests regardless.
Between Canaan and Egypt – This position raises fascinating questions regarding the mobility of the tribes when in Egypt.  Did they really have the freedom to come and go to Canaan, hold possessions there, and even make conquests?  If so, why did they stay in Egypt rather than returning to Canaan earlier?

Moshe's Initiative

Moshe, rather than Menashe, requested that some of the tribe join Reuven and Gad east of the Jordan.

Why did Moshe want Menashe to join?
  • Demographics – Ramban14 claims that after Moshe agreed to Reuven and Gad's request, he realized that the land was too vast for just two tribes and therefore offered a portion to anyone who wished to join.15 
  • Spiritual aid – R. Saba and the Netziv assert that Moshe was motivated by religious concerns. R. Saba posits that Moshe worried that the two tribes were spiritually deficient (as proven by how their materialism led them to reject Canaan for the eastern bank), while the Netziv has him concerned about the lower level of Torah inspiration in their chosen lands. Moshe hoped that the presence of the tribe of Menashe, who were Torah scholars,16 would spiritually fortify the inhabitants.
  • Unity – Alternatively, Moshe wanted to ensure the unity of the nation and prevent the possible alienation of the tribes of Reuven and Gad.  By splitting Menashe and having one half settle on each of the two banks of the Jordan, he hoped to ensure that family and tribal ties would connect the two communities.
Different conditions? Moshe had no need to make Menashe's settlement conditional on joining the conquest since it was not they who asked to live on the eastern bank.  They had never suggested that they would forsake their brethren, so Moshe had no need to emphasize that they must fight together with them.
Why did they need to conquer the land? Ralbag offers two explanations:
  • Extra-conquests post inheritance – After Moshe had them join Reuven and Gad, and gave them their main inheritance, Menashe conquered other outlying cities and surrounding regions and annexed them to their portion.17
  • During the war with Og – Though it is first mentioned now, in actuality Menashe conquered the territories earlier, when the nation as a whole fought against Og (Bemidbar 21). If so, it is possible that the reason Moshe chose them specifically to live in the region was because they were the ones who had previously conquered these cities.
Disproportionate inheritance
  • According to Ramban, Moshe had opened the land to all the tribes equally, so whoever had wanted could have similarly claimed a larger inheritance. Thus, there was no injustice in the disproportionate size of their territory.
  • According to Ralbag, the larger size was due to the fact that they independently conquered more area.
Machir and Yair, the sons of Menashe – As above, this position could say that these refer to Menashe's descendants, and not to literal sons.
What if Reuven and Gad had remained silent? According to this position, had it not been for the request of Reuven and Gad, the lands east of the Jordan would not have been settled by the Israelites.  It is not clear whether they would have remained a barren buffer zone, be used for commerce, or perhaps be shared by all the tribes equally as grazing land.

Part of Reuven and Gad's Petition

Despite the silence in the text, Menashe had been part of the negotiations from the beginning.

Sources:R. Avraham Saba #1
Why is Menashe not mentioned? According to R. Avraham Saba, the clans from Menashe were not mentioned earlier due to their relatively small numbers.
Different conditions? R. Saba would likely say that Menashe was given the same conditions as Reuven and Gad (as evidenced by their participation in the Conquest in Sefer Yehoshua) and the text simply did not want to repeat the fact.
Not Moshe's initiative – R. Saba maintains that Moshe was very reluctant to settle the eastern bank of the Jordan, viewing the land as impure and the desire to settle there as a rejection of the Promised Land.18 As such, he does not think that Moshe, on his own, would have ever forced one of the tribes to settle there against their will, leading him to conclude that Menashe themselves must have desired the territory.
Disproportionate inheritance – It is not clear, according to this position, why Menashe should have merited such a large portion. It is possible that Moshe did not want to penalize the other clans of the tribe for the deeds of their brothers.  Since these clans had not rejected Hashem's Land, he did not want to minimize their portion, even if part of their tribe was inheriting elsewhere.