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Masei: Why Is The End of Bamidbar So Anticlimactic? II
This video continues last week and in which we focused on a strange almost trivial saga of the family of Machir ben Manasseh. Machir, the child of Menasseh, in their little known conquest in the lands of Gilead through a man by the name of Jair. As we asked last week, this seemingly inconsequential story is the last piece in the narrative section of the Torah. It comes right before Moses’ speech in Sefer Devarim. Why is it that this seemingly inconsequential story wraps up essentially the entire narrative section of the Torah? To answer that we need to take a closer look at Jair himself.
Who was Jair, as we talked about last week his lineage is seems confused, he is described in one way in the book of numbers and in another way in the book of chronicle. I would like to come back and offer a theory about who Jair was. A child of Yahuda, who perhaps in someway sublimates the identity and appears almost as an adopted child of Joseph.
It all goes back to Gilead, this land which Jair was so instrumental about conquering. The name of that land, Gilead seems to come from a covenant known as galed, sealed between Laban and Yaakov and we began to talk, last week about the dark history of that covenant. Yaakov and Laban had taken a pile of stones and Laban had said, this pile of stones will be a witness between you and I, God will look out from here, long after you and I have left and will judge between us, and indeed, it was so. Yaakov have absconded from Laban’s household, Laban’s idols, these traphim, they are in the possession of Rachel and Laban, aware of that, that they have been taken expecting that someone in Yaakov’s camp has them, goes through an exhaustive search and can’t find them and he is deceived by Rachel and at the end, he seals this covenant, galed, but before he does, Yaakov had made a fateful promise that will come back to haunt him, im asher timtza et eloheicha lo yihyeh, ‘With whomever is found your Gods, they will not live and indeed, Rachel doesn’t live. In the birth of Benjamin, she dies before her time and the sages identify that death as being connected, in some way, with the terrible legacy of galed.
I suggested that last week, that the legacy is not over with the death of Rachel. For indeed for Yaakov to really loose Rachel, he would not have to lose just her but her children as well.
We talked last week about the loss of Joseph and how, if you look up the story, ‘The sale of Joseph’, all of the language of that sale hares back to galed. But if you weren’t convinced there, let me try and add a little bit wood to that fire and convince you now.
At galed, Yaakov protesting Laban’s accusations against him, unaware again, that Rachel has in fact taken the traphim, explodes in anger against his father in law. Once his father in law turns up empty, he says, ‘what did you find out anyway as you went searching through all of my stuff?’ Zeh esrim shanah, ‘these 20 years that I have been with you, I have been a faithful worker for you, what’s ever gone wrong?’ Rechelecha v’izircha lo shikelu, ‘The goats of yours that I have watched over, none of them ever miscarried’. V’elei tzoncha lo achalti, ‘There weren’t any sudden disappearances from your flocks, I was an honest worker. I took care of everything’. Trefah lo heveti eleicha, ‘I never came to you with a torn up animal that I haven’t properly shielded from predator and’, anochi achatenah miyadi tevakshenah, ‘If there was anything missing, I was the one who bore the loss of it. You have always come after me’. Genuvti yom ugenuvti laylah, ‘Didn’t matter whether it was stolen by days, stolen by night, you have always come after me and I replaced it’. When we look back over this little speech that Yaakov has given, we play our favorite game, where else do we hear those words. You will find no less than four references that take you to dark events later on in Yaakov’s life.
Rechelecha v’izircha lo shikelu, Yaakov says. Rechelecha, what an interesting word. Your Rachel, lo shikelu, never miscarried. Did Rachel ever miscarry? She did have a pregnancy where labor was exceedingly difficult but she didn’t miscarry the child. It was a live birth and instead it was Rachel herself who had died, in the birth of Benjamin. Had she only miscarried, early in her pregnancy, perhaps she would have lived. Trefah lo heveti eleicha, Yaakov says, ‘I have never brought something torn up to you’. ‘Torn up’, that’s the exact words that Yaakov himself says, when he is presented with the bloody coat. Tarof toraf Yosef, Joseph, Joseph has been torn up. Anochi achatenah miyadi tevakshenah, Yaakov says, ‘you will always come and claim it for me’. Who else said those words, almost exactly like that? Anochi e’ervenu miyadi tevakshenu, that was Yahuda speaking about Benjamin, another of Rachel’s children. Yaakov had not wanted to allow Benjamin to go down to Egypt, he had already lost Joseph, he didn’t want to lose the last of Rachel’s kids but then Yahuda says, ‘No, you can always come and claim him from me’. Yahuda is echoing the words of his father. Genuvti yom ugenuvti laylah, where else in Tanah, do we have a double ganav like that? It is Joseph himself, Joseph in prison. Gunov gunavti meeretz haivrim, Joseph had said in prison, ‘I was stolen, kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews’, everything Yaakov says to Laban, comes back to haunt him, in the stories that involves the loss of Rachel’s children and indeed, last week we focused on the loss of Joseph and it is not just Joseph, Rachel has another child, Benjamin. Where was Benjamin going to be lost? Benjamin is lost later in the book of Genesis when Joseph, high Egyptian official, frames Benjamin by placing his silver goblet in his sack.
The tribes leave the city, Joseph tells his henchman, kum redof acharei haanashim v’hisagtam, ‘Go pursue those men, catch up to them’, v’amarta alehem, ‘Go tell them’, lamah shilamtem raah tachat tovah, ‘why did you repay my kindness with such evil?’ Look at these words carefully, ‘pursue’, ‘catch up with’, where else did we have someone racing after someone else, catching up with them and making this self-righteous claim, ‘How could you leave like this?’ This is Laban, its happening again. It is as Joseph, who’s taken by the long arm of Gilead, by the long arm of Laban, is now assuming the persona in a way of Laban himself, mimicking Laban and coming to take away the other child of Rachel. To deprive the family of Jacob, him too and it is the same language as Laban,vayirdof acherav, the verse says. Same language catching up, vayaseg lavan et Yaakov. Laban, Yaakov, it is all the same language. Once again, the victim was caught unaware. The victim in the traphim story was Yaakov but now, the victim is Judah. He too doesn’t know, that there’s someone within his camp with the stuff that has been sought after and he too, makes a statement that will come to haunt him.
Asher yematze ito meavadeicha vamet, ‘With whomever you find it, they will die’. It is the same thing that Yaakov had said and then there is the search. Laban had searched Yaakov’s possessions, starting with the oldest, Leah. Ending with the youngest, Rachel, one more time, vayechapes begadol hechel uvakaton kilah vayimatze hagavia beamtachat Binyamin, and then they found the goblet.
This is the moment when everything could be lost, all of Rachel’s children and Laban, could have his final victory but in the end, that final victory is prevented. Laban doesn’t prevail, Joseph and Benjamin, remain ultimately part of the Jewish family, part of Jacob’s household. Why – because of Judah. Judah recalls, that he has personally pledged that he will bring Benjamin home to Yaakov, come what may and he makes an impassioned speech to Joseph where he lays out the truth, he tells him the whole story. He says, I took responsibility for this kid, father have already lost one of the children of his beloved wife Rachel. I can’t allow him to lose too.
Judah comes face to face with the terrible reality, father loves Rachel, loves her more even than my own mother. There was a time when I was willing to sell a child of Yaakov’s precious Rachel because I couldn’t face that reality but this will not be that time. Take me instead, let Benjamin go home to his father. Joseph is overcome with emotion, reveals himself and now, both Joseph and Benjamin, return to Yaakov’s family.
So, as we close the book of Genesis, we see the beginning of galed’s legacy, the attempt of galed, this covenant that Jacob seals with Laban, to grab the children of Rachel and galed is foiled, vanquished by none other than Judah. That same Judah who came up with the idea, let’s sell him, is responsible for saving both Benjamin and Joseph and bringing them back into the fold. Judah is responsible for making sure that there’s such thing as a tribe of Joseph among the Jewish people and now, at the close of Sefer Bamidbar, we hear about galed one last time.
Indeed, Gilead, this land that gets its name through galed is taken for the Jewish people, by non-other than a man called Jair ben Menasseh, a child of Menasseh and yet, as we point it out, in the Book of Chronicles, we learn that he was only related through his grandmother, to Menasseh. His tribal affiliation is Judah. It is the final act of reconciliation.
Centuries after Judah vanquished the ghost of galed. A child of Judah, captures galed one more time, captures Gilead on behalf of the child of Joseph. Jair, the child from Judah, ensures that Gilead will become part of not just Jewish territory, part of Joseph’s territory. It will become part of the tribe of Menasseh. His grandmother is a daughter of Machir ben Menassah. What a strange name, Machir. Sure sounds a lot like machirah, doesn’t it? The same letters as the sales as if Menasseh named his child after the sale Joseph and now, comes a child, Jair from Judah who conquers these villages and could have claimed them for his own tribe but doesn’t, he becomes an adopted child of Menasseh’s tribe and takes it for Joseph. The last action piece of the Jews 40 years adjourning in the desert ends with brothers taking care f brothers. And with his selfless act, Jair helps to vanquish the ghosts of galed, one last time.