Mattot: Why So Many Refuge Cities for 2.5 Tribes?

What happened when the 2.5 tribes left their families and came to fight with the others for Canaan?

Rabbi S. Weiss,

Judaism Rabbi S Weiss.JPG
Rabbi S Weiss.JPG
Arutz 7

Life, it's oft been said, is about the choices we make.

Reuven & Gad (who are joined by elements of ShevetMenashe) petition Moshe, in our parsha, to live east of the Jordan, where grazing land was abundant, sufficient for their large flocks. "We will build pens for the animals, & cities for our children," they tell Moshe.]

A perturbed Moshe first compares them to the m'raglim, the spies who shunned Eretz Yisrael & brought calamity on the nation. Later, reassured that these 2 ½ tribes would fight shoulder-to-shoulder with the other tribes to liberate Israel, Moshe acquiesces to their petition, but reverses their perverted priorities:

"You will build cities for your children and then you will provide for your livestock."

Were Reuven, Gad & Menashe suffering from "breakaway syndrome," where every Jew has to leave his shul & daven in Anshei The Other Place?

Were they scared to fight against the Canaanites?

Or - as first-borns (Reuven from Leah, Gad from Zilpa, Menashe from Yosef), who felt they never really received their fair share - was this a "payback" for being seemingly disenfranchised?

No, say Chazal; it was pretty much all about the money.

Fast-forward, if you will, to next week's Sedra, where G-d designates 6 Cities of Refuge - 3 on each side of the Jordan. Places where accidental manslaughters could run to avoid harm from avenging next of kin & seek asylum.

But why should we need 3 cities for 9.5 tribes on one side, & 3 cities for just 2.5 tribes on the other?

Rashi explains that "trans-Jordan was a murderous place." But why? Just because Reuven, Gad & Menashe may have been over-zealous in the pursuit of wealth, did that make them murderers?

So I suggest the following:

The break-away tribes fought alongside Bnei Yisrael for 7 years, then stayed another 7 until the land was distributed.

14 years away from their families; 14 years when their kids were growing up, lacking all fatherly guidance. Is it any wonder they grew up restless, confused & dysfunctional?

The fathers may have had good intentions in wanting to provide "the good life" for their families. But the end result was that their offspring picked up the wrong values.

Centuries later, it turns out, these same families would be the first of the 10 Tribes to be exiled by Assyria.

The grass - & dollars - may seem to be greener on the other side, but be careful; it ain't necessarily so.