Shabbat Table Topics – Parashat Mattot

Leadership Imperfections?

Akeidat YitzchakBemidbar Peirush 32About R. Yitzchak Arama and AbarbanelBemidbar 32About R. Yitzchak Abarbanel have conflicting views regarding Moshe's handling of the petition of the two and half tribes.  While Akeidat Yitzchak justifies Moshe's angry reaction as the appropriate response to a problematic request, Abarbanel posits that Moshe overreacted and misunderstood the tribes' true intentions.

  • With whom do you agree? Set up a debate at your Shabbat table, using the sources found in Petition of the Two and a Half Tribes to aid in the discussion.
  • Regardless of which side of the debate you take, what can our story teach us about negotiating tactics?
  • Is it problematic to criticize Moshe and suggest that he might not have had perfect leadership skills?  Interestingly, despite his position here, elsewhere, Abarbanel harshly criticizes those who find fault with Moshe.1 See his debate with Ralbag in Did Moshe Need Yitro's Advice.

The Handicap of the Omniscient Reader

When speaking of the tribes that negotiated settling the eastern bank of the Jordan, many refer to the group as the "two and a half tribes," not distinguishing between Reuven, Gad, and the half of Menashe. Since readers know that half of Menashe settled in the East, they often do not notice that throughout the discussion with Moshe, it is only Reuven and Gad who play a role, while Menashe is conspicuously absent. 

  • Was the tribe of Menashe part of the original petition?  If so, why are they not mentioned?  If not, why ultimately do they too inherit on the eastern side of the Jordan? For elaboration, see Menashe Joins Reuven and Gad.
  • There are many other instances where knowledge of the conclusion of the story might hamper one's reading of its opening stages.  Here are some cases to consider:
    • Did Yaakov's sons know that they were all to be chosen?  If not how might that help explain the behavior of both Yosef and his brothers?  See Yosef's Treatment of his Family.
    • Did the nation know in advance that Yericho was to be destroyed via miracle?  How might that affect your understanding of the Purpose of the Spies in Yehoshua 2?
    • Was Yerushalayim the only option for the "place that God will choose"? When and why was it chosen?  See Choice of Yerushalayim.

Reconciling Peshat and Derash

Bemidbar 31 describes the war against Midyan and the laws dealing with the purification of the spoils from battle.  It is not clear, however, why these spoils needed purification. While the context of the unit and the similarity between these laws and those in Bemidbar 19 would support the possibility that the laws relate to purification from corpse contamination, most exegetes follow the Rabbinic position that suggests that the verses speak of impurity from the cooking of non-Kosher food.


For more, see: Parashat Mattot Topics.