Messianic Education Trust
(Num 25:11 - 30:1(29:40))

B'Midbar/Numbers 26:28   The sons of Joseph, according to their families [that is]: Manasseh and Ephraim

View whole verse and interlinear translation ...

This verse comes from approximately the middle of the results of the second census conducted by Moshe, "on the plains of Moab, at the Jordan, opposite Jericho" (v. 63). The first census had been taken by Moshe and his brother, Aharon the Cohen; this time, Moshe is assisted by Aharon's son Elazar who has inherited the position of High Priest. Significantly, the text tells us that "Among these there was not one of those enrolled by Moshe and Aharon the priest when they recorded the Israelites in the wilderness of Sinai" (v. 64, JPS); this is nearly forty years after the earlier census at Mt. Sinai, and the generation that rebelled against HaShem and refused to enter the Land after the bad report of the ten spies sent up from Kadesh Barnea have died in the wilderness. This is a new generation who, after some preliminary skirmishes on the east of the Jordan, are soon to enter the Land to claim their inheritances under the hand of the L-rd.

The census results are characteristically difficult to process. The lists of names make fairly dry reading and are different in a number of ways from the genealogies that appeared to exist at the first census, giving the commentators lots of work in smoothing out the changes of names, the "missing" sons or clan-leaders and occasional appearance of daughters. One of the topics that is discussed at some length is that although the overall head-count remains remarkably similar - 601,730 men, down just 1,820 from the total of 603,550 in chapter 1, less than 0.5% - there is considerable variation between the population of the individual tribes. Perhaps the most significant changes are that the tribe of Simeon has more than halved its population from 59,300 to 22,200 - down by 37,100 - while one of the tribes of Joseph, Manasseh, has grown by 20,500.

Trying to accounting for the decrease in Simeon's population, Who Is ...

Rashi: Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105 CE), French rabbi who wrote commentaries on the Torah, the Prophets and the Talmud, lived in Troyes where he founded a yeshiva in 1067; focuses on the plain meaning (p'shat) of the text, although sometimes quite cryptic in his brevity
Rashi suggests that the 24,000 killed by plague in the episode of Ba'al Pe'or - "Those who died of the plague numbered twenty-four thousand" (25:9, JPS) - must all have come from the tribe of Simeon, based on the comment that the Israelite killed by Pinchas in the act of sexual sin with a Midianite woman was "Zimri son of Salu, chieftain of a Simeonite ancestral house" (25:14, JPS). The Jerusalem Talmud, on the other hand, claims that they died in the fighting about returning to Egypt. Jacob Milgrom postulates that "the loss of two-thirds of Simeon's soldiery parallels its history of near disappearance and absorption into the tribe of Judah." The allocation of land portions supports this: "The second lot came out for Simeon, for the tribe of the people of Simeon, according to their clans, and their inheritance was in the midst of the inheritance of the people of Judah" (Joshua 19:1, ESV).

On the positive side, Who Is ...

Gersonides: Rabbi Levi ben Gershom, Gersonides or Ralbag (1288-1344 CE); famous rabbi, philosopher, mathematician and astronomer/astrologer; born at Bagnols in Languedock, France; wrote a commentary on the Torah and a parallel to Maimonides' Guide For The Perplexed
Gersonides comments that, "comparing the numbers for Reuben and Simeon with those for Manasseh and Ephraim in the first and second censii, we see that Ya'akov's blessing - that he would give Yosef, as the first-born, "one portion more than to your brothers" (B'resheet 48:22) has already been fulfilled." He sees the shift in population away from Ya'akov's two oldest sons, by his wife Leah, to the sons of Yosef, Ya'akov's favourite son, the first-born of of Rachel, as a fulfillment of at least that part of the blessings or prophecies spoken over all of his sons by Ya'akov on his deathbed. The tribe of Manasseh lived in the hill country of Samaria, taking as their inheritance many Canaanite districts and city-states, thus developing a strong territorial position in the middle of the country, that endured well beyond the initial conquest through to the time of the monarchy. Milgrom points out that ostraca1 from Samaria recording the delivery of wine and oil from certain districts near Samaria to the royal palace include the names of five of the six clans of Manasseh and two of the daughters of Zelophehad. "Since these ostraca2 date about 800 BCE this means that the Manassite clan divisions maintained themselves well into the monarchy."

If we are to believe Rav Sha'ul when he says, "we know that G-d causes everything to work together for the good of those who love G-d and are called in accordance with His purpose" (Romans 8:28, CJB), we have to acknowledge the sovereignty of G-d to move people and stage events on a grand scale. It is not that He forces people against their will to do certain things, rather that He knows better than we do the choices that we will take and so plans around and through them to accomplish His purposes. We are not here today by choice or accident, we exist because He has willed it; as the Sages of the Mishnah write, "Against your will you were created; against your will you were born; against your will you live; against your will you will die; and against your will you are destined to give an account before the King who rules over kings, the Holy One, Blessed is He." (m. What Is ...

Pirkei Avot: literally "Chapters of the Fathers", although usually "Ethics of the Fathers"; one of the tractates of the Mishnah that includes many pithy proverb-like sayings attributed to the sages who contributed to the Mishnah
Pirkei Avot 4:29).

It was G-d's plan to increase the size of the tribe of Manasseh; it was His choice - through the lots that were drawn to allocate the individual portions of the Land - where they settled; it was His choice that their identity remained distinct right through the times of the monarchy until the destruction and exile of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians. As Moshe taught the people before they entered the Land, "Look, I have taught you laws and rulings, just as ADONAI my G-d ordered me, so that you can behave accordingly in the land where you are going in order to take possession of it. Therefore, observe them; and follow them; for then all peoples will see you as having wisdom and understanding. When they hear of all these laws, they will say, 'This great nation is surely a wise and understanding people'" (D'varim 4:5-6, CJB). Whether they obeyed or disobeyed, the people were still a witness; whether they lived according to Torah in the Land or were exiled from the Land because they failed to observe Torah, they were still a witness. Their very existence was a witness. The recent resurgence of anti-Semitism today continues both to be a witness and to demonstrate the continuity of the Jewish people's role as witness to the nations.

Yeshua told the disciples, "Here is what it says: the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day; and in His name repentance leading to forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed to people from all nations, starting with Yerushalayim. You are witnesses of these things" (Luke 24:46-48, CJB. Where was this to be? "You will be my witnesses both in Yerushalayim and in all Y'hudah and Shomron, indeed to the ends of the earth!" (Acts 1:8, CJB) - not just in Israel but through the whole world so that, over time, everyone would hear about Yeshua and have the opportunity to enter the kingdom of G-d in Him. We are the current generation of witnesses: every thriving and growing church or congregation is a witness; every closed chapel and church building, whether derelict or converted into housing or - chas v'shalom, G-d forbid - a nightclub, is a witness. People will look at that witness and ask, "What happened here? Why is this church so alive and this one so dead?"

The question we need to ask ourselves is not whether we are witnesses or will leave a witness for others to see, but what kind of witness it will be. We have no choice about being witnesses; it is, by definition, by calling and by G-d's will, what we are. We do, however, have a choice about the kind of witness we are: whether of willing obedience to G-d and walking - even if through a measure of suffering - in His blessing, whether in indifference towards G-d and so experiencing all the trauma of this life without experiencing His support and comfort, or whether in opposition to G-d, shouting our defiance and rebellion all the way to the grave. That witness will be seen, for every witness is seen by someone, throughout our lives, and will affect other people as G-d brings them across our path. Every day we have to make a choice to follow G-d, to model Him in our speech, our dress and our relationships with other people.

1. - ostraca (pl.) - derived from a Greek word ostracon, meaning 'shell', these are pieces of pottery broken off vases or other earthenware vessels that are then used as writing tablets, for recording names, amounts, votes, accounts and so on.

2. - The Samaria Ostraca are a set of 64 legible ostraca found in Samaria dating from 750-850 BCE, written in early Hebrew script.

Further Study: D'varim 31:21; Lamentations 3:22-24; John 3:31-33

Application: Our witness goes on all day, every day, whether on-duty or off, whether sunshine or shower. What can you do today to make your witness positive - how can you work with G-d today to help extend the reach of the kingdom?

© Jonathan Allen, 2012

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