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The Torah is a book of great drama, why does the narrative ends with a seemingly-unnecessary story about a random conquest of some towns? In this week and next week, Rabbi Fohrman paints a picture of epic connections to the stories of Jacob, Joseph and Judah.
This is Rabbi David Fohrman and welcome to Parshat Matos.
In this week’s Parsha, I would like to discuss with you a great mystery that concerns one of the lesser known people in the book of numbers. So lesser know that I bet many of you people have never heard of him at all. It is a man named by [Hebrew 00:17], child from the tribe of Menasha who’s strangely not from the tribe Menasha at all. At least not according to the book of chronicles. The book of numbers, identifies [Hebrew 00:29] as coming from the family of [Hebrew 00:32], the child of Menasha, is of course one of the two children of Joseph and yet, the book of chronicles identifies him as a child coming from the tribe of Judah. Now this may not seem like a terribly big deal but I assure you there’s a great story to be told here and it begins with this little tiny discrepancy between the book of chronicles and the book of numbers.
Come with me for a minute into the book of chronicles and I am going to give you like 10 seconds of genealogy. The book gives the lineage of the tribe Judah. That Judah gave birth to[Hebrew 01:02], [Hebrew 01:02] the gave birth to [Hebrew 01:04]. [Hebrew 01:05] married the daughter of [Hebrew 01:07] from Menasha, they had a child by the name of [Hebrew 01:10] and [Hebrew 01:11] gave birth to [Hebrew 01:13].
Now, that may all seem very complicated but the upshot of it all is that [Hebrew 01:17] has a grandmother from the tribe of Menasha but that doesn’t make him a card carrying member of the tribe of Menasha because tribal affiliation follows [Hebrew 01:28]. So [Hebrew 01:30] is actually from the tribe of Judah. Why then does the book of numbers disguise that and suggest that, he is from Menasha rather than Judah?
This seemingly trivial mystery brings us I believe to the edge of an epic story. A story, whose final chapter perhaps takes place right here, in Parshat Matos but whose earliest chapters begin right in the depths of the book of genesis, in one of the most difficult and tragic times in the entire bible.
The epic story, that I would like to tell you over this week and next, is the story of the land of Gilead. Right here in Matos, we learned that a family of [Hebrew 02:12] child of Menasha, they went to the land of Gilead which was under [Hebrew 02:16] control at the time, [Hebrew 02:18] and they captured this territory and then we hear one of the member of this family, [Hebrew 02:24] this child of the tribe of Menasha [Hebrew 02:27] and he captures all the towns of Gilead, [Hebrew 02:31], and he named them the town of [Hebrew 02:35].
Who was [Hebrew 02:36] really and why do I care about the capture of Gilead? These questions will take us on a fascinating journey that begins with the origins of the land of Gilead. Let’s look at those origins now.
Gilead seems to get its name from an episode of genesis, chapter 31. Yaakov flees from the house of Laban, his father in law. Rachel, his wife, has surreptitiously taken possession of traphim belonging to her father, Laban. Exactly, what traphim are is unclear. They may have been certain kinds of idols that Laban worshipped. Three days later, Laban finds out that Yaakov has fled, chases after him. [Hebrew 03:21], catches up with him, [Hebrew 03:24], and when he does, he confronts Yaakov and accuses him of underhanded conduct. [Hebrew 03:32], he chastises him, how come you hid like a thief and you ran away, [Hebrew 03:37], you never told me you were leaving, I would have sent you out with songs and dances. Didn’t even give me a chance to kiss my children goodbye. And then, he concludes [Hebrew 03:49], and why did you steal my gods? Yaakov is unaware that anyone from his household has taken them and he made a declaration that he will live to regret. [Hebrew 04:00], he says, whoever has taken your Gods, will die. [Hebrew 04:07], search my tents, find whatever is yours. [Hebrew 04:13], but Yaakov didn’t know that Rachel have taken them. In a fact that Yaakov has inadvertently proclaimed a kind of death sentence upon his beloved wife, a death sentence that becomes tragically fulfilled when Rachel dies at young age, on the road of travelling towards [Hebrew 04:34]. Rashi treats the declaration of Yaakov as a kind of curse, [Hebrew 04:39], Rashi says and from that curse, [Hebrew 04:43] Rachel died by the way. Rashi quotes this in the name of [Hebrew 04:47].
Now, why am I telling you all of these? Because all of these takes place in Gilead.
When Laban chases after Yaakov, he encamps in [Hebrew 05:00], Mount Gilead and why is it called Mount Gilead? Evidently for what happens there just a few verses later. For after Laban finishes searching the tents unsuccessfully, for his traphim, he makes a covenant with Yaakov. He says, let the God of your father Abraham, the God of my father [Hebrew 05:20] judge between us when we leave each other today. This story isn’t over now, God will judge between us and here are pile of stones and these pile of stones will the witness between us. The pile of stones is called [Hebrew 05:35], the witness is called [Hebrew 05:38], becomes Gilead. It is the beginning of Gilead in the Torah and in our story, Parshat Matos, is the end of Gilead in the Torah.
What do these two mysterious stories of Gilead have to do with each other?
Let’s think a little bit about the implications of what Rashi has said here about the unfortunate curse, uttered by Yaakov, unaware that Rachel was the one who took the traphim. Rachel is taken from him before her time. Yaakov is deprived of Rachel in his life because he promised that whoever had taken the traphim will die but Yaakov is to be deprived of Rachel, it wouldn’t really be enough, would it? Just to take Rachel away from him? You would have to take her children away too. Does Yaakov ever lose Joseph, he does, in the sail of Joseph.
Let’s look carefully at the sail for a moment and listen for an echo of the story of the traphim.
When Yaakov promises Laban, that the person who has taken the traphim would die, he’s language is [Hebrew 06:47], with whom ever is found your Gods, they shall not live, [Hebrew 06:54], recognize for yourself, whatever is yours within my tents. Do we ever hear those words later on in the Torah? The word [Hebrew 07:04] found, together with recognize. [Hebrew 07:07]? These are the exact words with which the sail of Joseph was perpetrated. The brothers come to their father, [Hebrew 07:15], we found this they said and they presented him the bloody coat. [Hebrew 07:20] Recognize please, if this is your sons coat? Remember the feast that Yaakov had with his brothers in law, the children of Laban, to finalize the covenant. That’s the first time that we hear about brothers sitting down and eating bread. When is the next and the only other time in the five books of Moses that we ever hear about brothers sitting down to break breads with each other? It is in the sail of Joseph. [Hebrew 07:47], the brothers having thrown Joseph in the pit, sit down to eat bread together and the connection goes still further. Listen, for example, to Rachel’s declaration to her father, Laban. When Laban comes looking for the traphim, [Hebrew 08:04], and Rachel had taken the traphim, [Hebrew 08:08] and she had put them in the paddle sack of the camel. What a vivid picture we have, we know exactly where she has put them but there is an elaborate double [Hebrew 08:19] here.
Listen to the world traphim phonetically. Forget how it is spelled, what does traphim sound like and does it remind you of anything in the sail of Joseph story? It certainly does, when Yaakov sees the bloody coat, what does he say? Says, [Hebrew 08:36], Joseph has been torn up alive, the word for torn up is [Hebrew 08:41], when there is two [Hebrew 08:43], it is plural. Its traphim, spelled differently with a [Hebrew 08:47] but it seems to be applied onwards, continues, Rachel had taken the traphim, [Hebrew 08:54], she places them in the pillow but what is [Hebrew 08:59] is spelled aside from pillow? It is spelled [Hebrew 09:03], she has placed her oldest son on top of the camel. Indeed when Joseph was taken away [Hebrew 09:10], taken away from the pit on? The caravan of Ishmaelite spirit away Joseph on a camel, it is as if Rachel put her [Hebrew 09:19] on the camel in as much as she took the traphim. And here is Rachel sitting on the traphim and she says, father, please forgive me, I cannot get up, [Hebrew 09:28], because the way of a woman is upon me and this is how she evades detection by her father but in a fact what she says to her father, if I get up all you will see is a pile of bloody cloths. What do the brothers present father with, in the sail of Joseph – the bloody coat.
This bloody mess is all we can find, what you are really looking for, we have no idea where it is. It is the same story, hauntingly one more time and finally perhaps most chilling of all, when Joseph is taken out of the pit by the Ishmaelite and put upon on their camels, where are those Ishmaelites coming from? [Hebrew 10:13], the caravan of Ishmaelite, [Hebrew 10:17], they are coming from Gilead. It is the long arm of [Hebrew 10:23], it is Laban, coming with his covenant to take what’s his. Not only Rachel herself disappeared from Yaakov’s grasp but Laban, will had her son too.
This here in the Genesis, is the beginning, of the shocking and dark story of [Hebrew 10:43], of Gilead and I would like to suggest to you, the very last acts of the book of numbers, focused on Gilead as well. It is how the Torah ends, if you think about it, everything else that happens after this, is just Moshe’s speech, this is the end. It all ends with Gilead too.
How does the end relate to the beginning? The story of Gilead begins tragically and it ends redemptively. Something is salvaged in Gilead, something related to Gilead’s harsh beginnings.
We will explore that, when we come back next week. I will see you then.
1. V'Zot Habracha: Looking Towards the Future - Part 3/3
2. Ha'azinu: A Unique Nation - Part 2/3
3. Nitzavim-Vayeilech: Where's the Happy Ending? - Part 1/3
4. Ki Tavo: Answer
5. Ki Tavo: Question
6. Ki Teitzei: Answer
7. Ki Teitzei: Question
8. Shoftim: Epilogue 2
9. Shoftim: Epilogue 1
10. Shoftim: The Line Between Murder And Apathy
11. Re'eh: Jewish Slavery
12. Part II: Eikev: What Does It Mean To Be A Good Person?
13. Part I: Eikev: What Does It Mean To Be A Good Person?
14. Va'etchanan: Seeing Layers in the Ten Commandments
15. Devarim: What Does It Mean To Have Faith?
16. Masei: Why Is The End of Bamidbar So Anticlimactic? II
17. Matot: Why Is The End of Bamidbar So Anticlimactic?
18. Pinchas: What Does It Mean To Be Zealous For God?
19. Balak: Balaam, Prophet For Hire?
20. Chukat: Was Hitting the Rock So Horrible?
21. Korach: Can We Influence God?
22. Shelach: Is Hope Irrational?
23. Behaalotecha: A Guide For...Parenting? Part II
24. Naso: A Guide For...Parenting?
25. Bamidbar: Who Cares About Genealogy?
26. Bechukotai: Why Would God Curse His People?
27. Behar: Why Does Land Have To Rest?
28. Emor: Is There A Shabbat In Other Realms?
29. Kedoshim: How Can I Achieve True Love?
30. Acharei Mot: The (Surprising) Purpose of Yom Kippur
31. Metzora: Living Within the Community
32. Tazria: The Bizarre Purification of the Metzora
33. Shemini: Why Did God Reject Nadav and Avihu?
34. Vayikra: Can Leaders Make Mistakes?
35. Pekudei: A Giant Chiasm In Sefer Shmot
36. Vayakhel: What Does It Mean To Be Tzelem Elokim?
37. Ki Tisa: Moshe's Benevolent Chutzpah
38. Tetzaveh: Where Is God In a Physical World?
39. Terumah: Is There a Face Hiding in the Tabernacle?
40. Mishpatim: Female Servitude...Wait, What?
41. Yitro: The Marriage of God and Israel
42. Beshalach: What Does It Mean to Have Faith?
43. Bo: Did God Really Need Ten Plagues?
44. Va'era: Did God Take Away Pharaoh's Free Will?
45. Shmot: If Midrash is Real, Why Isn't It Peshat?
46. Vayechi: Who is Joseph's Real Father?
47. Vayigash: The Epic Confrontation Between Judah and Joseph
48. Miketz: Why Didn't Joseph Write Home?
49. Vayeishev: Who Really Sold Joseph?
50. Vayishlach: Becoming a Person of Integrity
51. Vayeitzei: Consequences of Yaakov's Deceit
52. Toldot: A Conversation For the Ages
53. Chayei Sarah: What Makes For A Successful Life?
54. Vayeira: Abraham's Struggle With Loyalty
55. Lech Lecha: Covenant With God
56. Bereishit: Does Man 'Acquire' Woman?
57. Noach: Why Did God Destroy the World?
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