parshat matot-masei, numbers 33-36
Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on July 28th 2022 as we look at the configuration of the Israelite tribes through new eyes… the eyes of modern scholarship that suggests that the conquest of the Land of Israel by the freed slaves from Egypt also included the uprising of local tribes. Together they formed a confederation of tribes, united in their rejection of the existing class structure and the sovereign-vassal subjugation of Egypt and later empires.
Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition. Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8:00pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. Today we look at the configuration of the Israelite tribes through new eyes… the eyes of modern scholarship that suggests that the tribes were distinct peoples including freed slaves from Egypt but also regional disrupters who formed a confederation of tribes. Independent states united in their rejection of the existing class structure and the sovereign-vassal subjugation of Egypt and later empires. So, take out your musket and join your local militia as we explore the United States of Israel.
So welcome to Madlik, as we were saying, in the pre-show, it is a very long portion, it is two portions combined. And we are finally going to be catching up with Israel. So that we’ll be on the same page, so to speak. But the portion as you were saying, Rabbi starts with kind of following up on what happened last week with the Midianites that we are going to surround it really talks in very brutal terms about killing, destroying their towns, even killing the women who were of age. And it’s very hard to swallow. And we’re not going to focus on that, but we might have some insight into it. And then it goes into the cities of refuge that need to be set up now as we’re about to cross the Jordan. And then finally, it revisits something that we could have all thought was a minor, little question of law. If all of you remember back in the day, we had the daughters of Zelophehad, whose father had passed away, and they had no brother, he had no sons. And they asked Moses, what’s going to happen with our inheritance in terms of the continuity of our dad’s name, and Moses consulted with God, and God came back and said, the daughters of Zelophehad can have the portion. And we thought that was behind us. But it reappears today. And that’s where we’re going to start, we’re going to kind of look at the portion backwards to forwards it, there’s an expression of אין מוקדם ומאוחר בתורה there’s no chronology. And we’re going to take that, we’re going to start with the daughters Zelophehad And we’re gonna work our way back. So, we are in Numbers 36. And we’re going to pick up in verse 3, where are the members of the same tribe, the tribe of Joseph, it’s called, that the daughters of Zelophehad’s father was a member of say, Now, if they become the wives of persons from another Israelite tribe, their share will be cut off from our ancestral portion and be added to the portion of the tribe into which they become wives, thus, our allotted portion will be diminished. So we’re really starting to get a very strong sense of this tribalism, but also how particular we Jews like to think of ourselves as homogeneous, there are Ashkenazim, there were Sephardic, Iraqi Jews, US Jews, but we’re starting to see that they took the tribal division of the land very seriously. And Moses comes back and says, and he sounds a little bit like Henry Ford here. He says they may become the wives of anyone they wish, provided they become wives within a clan of their father’s tribe. So, I’ll make the car in any color as long as it’s black. So the solution is that there is no intermarriage between the tribes. So here again, we have this emphasis on really the division between the tribes and I had really never focused that much on that. But Rabbi, am I correct in saying that from the viewpoint of Jewish history, I mean, we all know about the lost tribes and all that but ultimately, maybe being a Jew is so much determined by what others think. We’ve kind of coalesced into a Jew as a Jew is a Jew. But here we have to kind of change our lenders a little bit and really think more tribally, am I correct?
Adam Mintz 05:06
Absolutely. Right. Well, I mean, you know, that in the Middle East generally, you know, in the Arabian Peninsula even as late as the time of Mohammed, that the Arabs lived as tribes means tribalism was something that was very familiar. And the Jews had tribes, you know, today, it’s not really fair, because we read that before the destruction of the First Temple around the year 700 BCE, the 10 tribes the 10 northern tribes were actually dispersed, and they disappeared. So, we actually are all part of the tribe of Judah, Judah and Benjamin, which are called Judah. So that whole tribalism disappeared. But when they entered the land, everything was the tribe, you had to be part of your tribes. That’s the story of the daughters of Zelophehad, but they said, We want to inherit our Father, we have no brothers, we want to inherit our father, they were from Menasha. If they didn’t inherit their father, then their land would be lost. So what Moses tells them … your good will, you can inherit your father, but you need to marry within Menasha. If you marry outside the tribe, then you’re going to lose the land. It’s all within the tribe. I mean, it makes the shiduch market difficult, you know, who you can marry, you can only marry within the tribe, which is fascinating.
Geoffrey Stern 06:27
Well, it gives the word intermarriage, a whole new meaning.
Adam Mintz 06:30
Isn’t that right? Intermarriage had a huge, you know, a detriment, because, you know, your power was dependent on the amount of property that you had as a tribe, there was a lot of influence that was very much dependent on the tribes on the different tribes. So, you are this Shabbat Rabbi, I always ask you in the pregame, what you’re going to talk about, and you’re going to talk about Tisha B’Av, the ninth day above, and I believe that tonight is Rosh Chodesh Av… So, we are really talking this evening, at the beginning of a new month, and everybody does focus on the ninth of Av but I want to focus on a Mishnah that talks about the 15th. Day of Av, and in the tractate of Ta’anit, which deals with fasts. It says Rabbi Shimon, ben Gamliel, said, there were no days as joyous for the Jewish people as the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur as on them, the daughters of Jerusalem would go out in white clothes. And later in the Talmud, it asks, you know, I get Yom Kippur, your pure, your purified, you go out in white, you feel it’s a new beginning, I can understand why the daughters of Israel will rejoice. But what about the 15th of Av…. What makes it special? And Rabbi Yehudah said that Shmuel said this was the day on which the members of different tribes were permitted to enter each other’s tribe by intermarriage. And it goes on to ask and how do we know that and it quotes the verse I just read from our weekly portion. And it says, this is the matter that the Lord had commanded concerning the daughters of Zelophehad. It says, this matter shall be practiced only, for this generation, the generation when Eretz Israel, the land of Israel was divided among the tribes, but afterwards, members of different tribes were permitted to marry. So somewhere and it doesn’t quite say when, you know, we have an instance. And I think we’re going to come across this, we’ve already come across this many times, where there’s a law on the books, but the law on the books doesn’t appear or doesn’t end up being what it appears to be. So even according to this piece of Talmud, the prohibition on one marrying someone from another tribe was either I can’t say it was while of the daughters of Zelophehad were alive. It was maybe while they were dividing up the land, and that could have been a generation or two, we’ll see. But certainly, there was a point and of course, because there’s a celebration on the 15th of Av, you’ve got to believe there was a precise point where that was no longer the case. And it was a time for great celebration. So Rabbi, what is your read on this? It’s not something every Jew probably has heard of the ninth of Av not so much the 15th of Av. Maybe because when you live in a period where the ramifications of the destruction of the temple might still be here. You can mourn it, but when you feel that Jew can marry a Jew, you’ve forgotten this time and place when we were divided into 12. So, I think that that amazing piece of Talmud has a couple of things. The first interesting thing is that the time that they were married, allowed to marry one another was a time of great celebration. That’s fantastic. Because that actually has to do with what I joked before about the shiduch market. You know, once you once you open up who you can marry, so it’s it, you know, it makes a huge difference. All of a sudden, your pool of potential husbands and wives is not only within your own tribe, but it’s open to everybody. That’s why they celebrate. And that’s interesting. The way we celebrate the 15th of Av is the women go out in white clothing to find husbands. It’s all about finding husbands. And this is what it was, because the tribes were able to marry one another. So, you know, so that’s interesting that that specifically was a celebration. Now, the idea that, once the land is divided, so the borders between the tribes was set, once the borders between the tribes was set, so then they could intermarry and go back and forth, because the borders within the tribes were set. It was only in the first generation when they were establishing those borders, that they had to be strict in terms of marrying one another. Now, what’s interesting about that piece of Talmud is that it doesn’t exactly tell you the story, right? It doesn’t exactly tell you how it worked. So what happened, if it turns out that the grandchildren of Zelophehad, you know, married outside the tribe? So what happened to the land? What happened to the property that belongs to Zelophehad? Did it move? Or did it stay where it was, but the daughters moved, but their land stayed where it was. And I think that’s probably what happened, there was movement of people, but there was no longer movement of land. And that’s what they wanted to establish.
Geoffrey Stern 12:06
I mean, you definitely could make that case, I think you could also make the alternative case that over time, because the boundary of marriage was no longer there, the strict division between the tribes started to wear away, and you would have somebody from the tribe of Benjamin living in Yehudah, so to speak, or whatever. I think you could go either way on this. But definitely, what you were saying is that once the borders were there, so in other words, it’s kind of like you had a stake in the ground, you didn’t need to protect the concept as much. I like to think about it as, and I call this episode, the United States of Israel. You know, once you establish the state of New York, you can let people from Connecticut in, you already have your, your identity. And maybe that was part of it. But I want to continue with the Talmud in Ta’anit, because the next reason for why it was a joyous day is even more striking, who have Joseph said that Rob Nachman, said the 15th of Ab was the day in which the tribe of Benjamin was permitted to enter the congregation. And, and it is stated the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpah saying, none of us shall give his daughter to Benjamin as a wife, none of us, but our children could. So I’m going to let you all in on a little secret, you know, that I am an ex Bachur Yeshiva. I’m someone who studied in a traditional Jewish Academy. And I think this it’s safe to say that Rabbi Adam did as well. And unfortunately, many times in the Yeshiva, the only way you read stories of Tanach of in the book of Samuel, in the book of Chronicles in the book of Judges, is because you have a reference, as we just saw here, and then you go ahead and you read it. So you understand the text of the Talmud. And it’s a real shame. And I think Rabbi Adam, the organization that you’re involved with that reads a chapter from Tanach, is it every day or every week,
Adam Mintz 14:30
Every day, and it tries to solve this problem that you’re describing?
I’m actually studying Tanach with somebody. We’re already on the 10th Chapter of Joshua. Every week we study one chapter of tanach. It’s funny, amazing, important. It’s very important.
Geoffrey Stern 14:34
Maybe, you know, we always have to decide what we’re going to do next year. Come Simchat Torah and maybe we should start looking at different…. So here’s a story that if you’ve never I heard it will absolutely blow you away. There is a gentleman from the tribe of Levi, and his wife runs away, and she runs back to her father’s house. And after a while he goes to fetch her. And he goes to the Father’s house and the Father continually day after day, wines and dines him and tries to convince him to stay another day, stay another day, you don’t know what the situation is, clearly his daughter ran away, and he preferred that she’s under his roof. Maybe there’s an issue with this guy from the tribe of Levi. But finally, he takes this. And it’s a concubine. Not sure even if it’s his full wife, but they go in the direction of Jerusalem. But they don’t go to Jerusalem, they go into an adjoining town. And there’s no one who wants to give them a place a manger to stay in, so to speak, and then in the courtyard. And finally, and this gets a little bit to the comment I made earlier about people from different tribes living within those other tribes. Someone outside of the tribe, and I believe they’re in the tribe of Benjamin, that’s the area they’re in. But someone outside says, come into my house. And then the story starts to sound identical to the story of Sodom and Lot. A crowd forms outside, and they want to sodomized this Levite, this stranger, and the person who owns the house says, take my daughter, and the Levi says take my concubine. And finally, he throws his concubine out. And she gets raped multiple times. And in the morning, he sees her. We don’t know if she’s dead yet, but soon to be dead body. And he takes her and then he cuts her up into 12 pieces. And he sends a piece to each one of the 12 tribes and says, Look what has been done. And as a result, all of the other tribes mount an army they have I said in the intro, you know, go join your militia. Well, every one of the states have their own militia, and that is in the parsha as well. And they attack the tribe of Benjamin multiple times. Until finally, they are able to persevere and the language that they use, I ask you all if you’re interested at all, look at the notes in Sefaria that we published along with our podcast. And you will see that the language that they use about killing every male killing every female, who is childbearing age, is exactly the same as what we have in the beginning of our parsha to this week. And to the point where now they have an issue about who are these people going to marry. And I won’t get into all of the long story there. It’s very gruesome, it’s very brutal, but they decide two things which is to go ahead and attack other members of tribes who didn’t actually participate in the military action. And they force them to marry so that the tribe of Benjamin does not go extinct. But they keep to their guns, and they say there is no marriage between any of the tribes, none of us will marry the tribe of Benjamin. And it is referring to this story. When it says on the 15th, of Ab there was rejoicing because again, we don’t have a sense of why the 15th of Ab was picked, that it was a particular deadline. But in any case, there too this was behind us and what both these stories have is clearly about the tribalism and Israel working through the tribalism, what do you make of this story, Rabbi,
Adam Mintz 19:33
I mean, Israel working making, you know, working through the tribalism and somehow the realization that if we don’t allow intermarriage between the tribes, that Israel will disintegrate. To me that’s the more interesting part of it, meaning the story of Pilegesh of Givah the story of what went wrong there is its own story. But what the 15th of Ab celebrates is the realization that to make it as a nation, we have to allow marriage between the tribes. That’s interesting. Both stories are exactly the same. it’s realization that tribalism doesn’t work for us. That’s really what it is.
Geoffrey Stern 20:25
And I totally agree with you. But I also think that there’s a flip side of this, which is both recognize that the origins of our people were, in fact very tribal.
Adam Mintz 20:39
Well the story with Benjamin is extremely tribal. They blame Benjamin. That’s not the way we would do it. Today, we would blame individuals, Why do you blame the whole tribe? Where does that come from?
Geoffrey Stern 20:55
Adam Mintz 20:58
And again, it’s other Jews, so to speak. I mean, we consider them Jews, I will argue that our concept of we’re all Jews, maybe doesn’t so much apply at this period of our history, where the association in an identification with the particular tribes was so strong, that you were Benjamites, or you were from the tribe of Manasseh, or Dan, it was total identification with your tribe. But one of the things I said that we were going to look at it through the eyes of modern scholarship as well. And one of the things that the modern scholars have said, is that they believe, looking at it, even from the perspective of the same identical language is used here as in our portion, where our portion we’re talking about exterminating, so to speak, the Midianites. Here, we’re talking about doing the same thing to the tribe of Benjamin, the argument is that Israel was formed from many tribes. And yes, we have a wonderful story about the 12, sons of Jacob. And of course, Jacob had concubines too, and it wasn’t all homogeneous. But the scholars really go back. And they say, that it could very well be that this amazing story of Egypt became the primary story of our people, but that ultimately, there were other peoples in the land of Canaan. Some of them were not friendly, the Midianites and we decimated them, some of them the Benjamites, we had to go through a process. You know, it reminds you this story, a little bit old, so of the rape of Dinah, and the story that we studied in Genesis of Shechem, where they’re she’s raped first, then they are required to circumcise, and then they get killed, if you just change the chronology slightly. And you have a situation where they become part of the tribal area, this Shchemites decide to convert and be part of our mission, and they circumcise, and then they rape, similar to what happened here with the Benjamites, then you have a very similar story. But you definitely have paradigms of different people joining up in modern archaeology shows that there were there was a real disruption in Canaan at this point, and that you can go look at cities, not only Jericho, but you can look at other cities that in this 100 200-year period, there was a revolution going on. And it could very well be that the Jews coming out of Egypt, joined a revolution, but also brought this amazing concept of one God and all that. And slowly but surely, this confederation of different peoples different tribes joined together. And there were definitely some speed bumps as we see in this tribe of Benjamin. But it’s a different kind of model, I think that becomes kind of fascinating. And again, I get back to the rejoicing, that we ultimately rejoice our ability to accept all of these tribes and to break down the boundaries between all of these tribes, and whether you buy into there were other peoples or you really limit it to tribes. I think the message is similar. And I think we can all agree upon that. But that certainly is a little bit of what’s happening here. There’s no question it’s a it’s a celebration of the nation of Israel. And you know, you suggest something which you’re right, you can’t prove, but you wonder about, where the 12 tribes like the 50 states. It’s interesting you call it the United States of Israel was elected 50 states which basically meant that they were one country and 12 tribes and 12 states, or were they really 12 countries more like Germany was, you know, in the, in the 1800s, where they actually were separate countries, in this kind of confit and this federal Federation, and what you’re suggesting, and I don’t think there’s any way to prove that you’re wrong, what you’re suggesting is that they actually were 12 nations. And you know, that’s why the story of Pilegesh at Givah, the story that you told about Binyamin is such an important story, because actually, there were there was, there were battles between the tribes, these were battles between nations. And then when they were allowed to marry one another, that was important, because that really says that we decided that that model is wrong, we need to be the United States of Israel. So I think the title of tonight’s class really tells us a lot about what was at stake in all of these things.
Geoffrey Stern 25:53
And I think that maybe you know, there were many times that we moderns have a problem understanding an ancient text. But in this particular case, as many of us are Americans and understand this dialectic between a federal government and states, clearly, we have an insight into this in our short history. Clearly, they had their own militias. And that’s pretty powerful in those days, they collected their own taxes. So, it is kind of fascinating. So, I promised that I was going to work my way backwards in the Parsha. So now I think is a wonderful segue to talk about the Cities of Refuge. So here too, clearly, you’re coming to a land. And of course, it’s fascinating that they already are talking about cities, the urban, you know, he you’re coming out of the desert. And you’re not talking about farmlands and all that you’re talking about people living in a very concentrated way in cities, but it’s there’s town planning going on. And there are two things that need to be done that are different from the current infrastructure in Canaan, you know, they can move into the city of Jericho, but they’ve got to modify it in a way. And the ways that they have to modify it a one, they have to have the Cities of Refuge, there were six of them, and three of them are in the mainland of Israel, and three of them are going to be on the other side of the Jordan. And we’ll get into that too. But then they will also 48 towns for the Levites. And we’ve talked about this multiple multiple times. So again, what it looks like is an archaeology proves this is that at this time, there was a confluence of all of a sudden turmoil and change, and cities were falling down and their infrastructure was being changed. And maybe we have situations of treaties, where the vassal, and the Pharaoh were being broken, there were rebellions going on. And here we formed the Cities of Refuge. But to the point that we were just discussing, the real function of the cities of refuge is to stop blood feuds, and blood feuds we know about it even till today, if someone in your family gets killed, the only way to redeem their blood is to kill somebody in the family or the tribe that did it. And it goes on and on. And so talking about this kind of arc of history that we’re seeing with tribalism is strong. And then come the 15th, of Ab it celebrated, that it’s not so strong. I think you can make a case I wonder, Where do you think, Rabbi, that the Cities of Refuge are again, a another chip away at this tribalism? And this this, this blood feuding and blood is thicker than water, so to speak.
Adam Mintz 29:12
So tribalism ….. here’s another term that we use, and that’s clans. You know, tribes are sometimes tribes and tribes are sometimes just large families. You know, you read about the the Saudi Arabia, you know, Saudi Arabia today is made up of these ruling families. He talks about the UAE, you know, they’re basically just ruling families. They’re not tribes, they’re just families. But the families are so large and so important that they become their own tribe. And I wonder whether that’s really what the Torah talks about when it talks about blood feuds. You know, you have these powerful families, which are themselves tribes, and that leads to this idea that they’re going to take revenge and that’s why you need your protection. So, there’s no question that that’s true. It’s just that the Torah sets it up as they’re being tribes, as opposed to families. But I think obviously that you know, that’s not so simple that really there were probably very, very big, powerful families. And we know that kind of, and this also relates to what’s in this week’s parsha. We know that from the story of Zelophehad, Zelophehad was a family. The father was clearly very prestigious, and he dies and he has no sons and the daughters are nervous because our father is prestigious our father is important, and he’s going to lose his land and they’re not worried about the tribe. They’re worried about the family. And that’s why it says it says it in this week’s parsha they have to marry within the tribe, which really means they have to marry within the families, לִבְנֵ֥י דֹדֵיהֶ֖ן לְנָשִֽׁים the Torah says they should marry their cousins, they should marry their first cousins very literally. So it’ not the tribes so much. It’s really the family. That’s interesting. I didn’t think about that. But what the Torah says לִבְנֵ֥י דֹדֵיהֶ֖ן לְנָשִֽׁים
Geoffrey Stern 32:06
Absolutely. I think I mentioned that there were three cities of refuge on in the mainland of Israel, and three on the what we would call today the West Bank. And Rashi asks, why is that? And he says, because in Gilad and the East Side murderers were more numerous דִּבְגִלְעָד נְפִישֵׁי רוֹצְחִים. So here too, it wasn’t homogeneous. They had certain issues with some of the tribes, whether they were children of Jacob, or they were other people that had come in. Again, it gives you a sense of the real challenge of uniting this. And I think the flip side of that is that the United monarchy, and all of that didn’t last very long. But it this was something that was unique in history also, that for a shining moment, these disparate peoples were kind of United, I want to go back to the beginning of the parsha, which is the one that gave me the hardest time where we read about a conquering the conquest of the land, and much of it is very hard to read. And I think one of the comments of the those who read all of Tanach understand that it’s not altogether clear whether this actually happened. Whether, in fact, the Canaanites were ever totally exterminated from Israel, it might be kind of wishful thinking. And I think we have an example of that even today, when the ultra-orthodox Haredi are trying to recreate a Europe where everybody studies Torah, guess what, there was never a Europe where everybody studied Torah, they’re trying to recreate an ideal that never was. And I think that there’s no question that part of what’s going on in this rendering, because if you look at Joshua, and if you look at the later books of the Tanakh, in no way in form, does it say that everyone was exterminated. This is one kind of wishful opinion. I quote, a source in the notes, which is just absolutely, I think, rich and fascinating. And it’s from a guy named Moshe Weinfeld. And he actually goes all the way through the rabbinic period, how they dealt with this, quote, unquote, the harem and extermination. And there was no consensus on this. One of the most fascinating things that I’ve read, and I think I’ve mentioned this before, is it talks about killing the וְה֨וֹרַשְׁתֶּ֜ם אֶת־כׇּל־יֹשְׁבֵ֤י הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ (Numbers 33: 52) and we normally talk about יֹשְׁבֵ֤י הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ as the residents, the citizens of the land. But as everyone knows, when we bring the Torah back to the ark on Shabbat, we go ה’ לַמַּבּ֣וּל יָשָׁ֑ב וַיֵּ֥שֶׁב ה’ מֶ֣לֶךְ לְעוֹלָֽם The LORD sat enthroned at the Flood; the LORD sits enthroned, king forever. And so יֹשְׁבֵ֤י הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ can also mean the rulers or the ruling class or those in charge. And that fits very well into this [theory of a] rebellion that went on. So, I don’t know, I think we all do have to struggle with it. But I think if you look in the context of this very long portion, you can see other threads very strong threads that we’re dealing with, which have to do with how do you make disparate people one, and I think that, to me, is the most positive, exciting and joyful aspect of this parsha and of the 15th of Ab which comes in a month full of tragedy.
Adam Mintz 34:46
I think that’s a great way especially on Rosh Hodesh Ab the first of the bad month, yet you talk about the positive that’s really beautiful. Enjoy the Parsha , this is a Hazak week. so to everybody we say Hazak Hazak Vnitchazek. We should be strong. We should be strong we should strengthen one another and we look forward to seeing you all next Thursday night. Shabbat Shalom everybody
Geoffrey Stern 35:07
Listen to last week’s episode: The Circle of Life