It is well known that in our parsha (Matos), the two tribes of Gad and Reuven requested to settle on the northeastern banks of the Jordan River, because there they found pasture for the many cattle that they possessed.  Moshe looked with a jaundiced eye upon their request, for he felt that they wanted to separate themselves from the rest of the Jewish people.  However, there was another population – part of the tribe of Menashe – that did not request to live in the same area as Gad and Reuven, and yet they were chosen by Moshe to do so.  Our question is, “why”?

One opinion – that of the Ramban – is that the land east of the Jordan was large, larger than what the two tribes of Gad and Reuven needed for themselves.  And therefore, part of the tribe of Menashe moved in to fill the void.  However, we find no hint of this in the Torah, and in fact, all we find is that “Moshe gave them the land.”  Additionally there is an opinion in the Talmud Yerushalmi (Bikurim 1:5) that Reuven and Gad could not bring bikurim to the Temple because they requested to settle outside of Israel proper, while Menashe who was commanded to live outside of Israel could also bring the bikurim.  From this, we understand that their location outside of Israel was not of their own volition but was suggested by Moshe.

Moreover, the Midrash (Rabah, Nasa 14:7) mentions that the tribe of Menashe brought two cows as sacrifices for the chanukat hamizbeach (“inauguration of the altar”).  This is an indication that there was something positive about their presence on the other side of the Jordan. So, how was the presence of part of the tribe of Menashe different from the presence of the entire tribes of Reuven and Gad?

In answer; while Moshe was not allowed to enter the land of Israel, he did stand on the east bank of the Jordan and gaze over the entire land.  His gaze was said to be “uplifting,” and in fact whatever he looked upon became obligated in the mitzvah of maaser, or “tithing.”  The gaze of a righteous person of Moshe’s stature is not merely passive; it actually elevates the status of the object upon which he gazes.  When Moshe looked at the west bank of Israel, it had the effect of uplifting and elevating it spiritually. However, Moshe did not turn his gaze to the east side of the Jordan.  He only looked over the border at the west side.  And yet, in the future, when the meshiach (Jewish messiah) arrives and redeems the Jewish people, the east bank of the Jordan will attain the same level of importance and holiness as the west bank.  So, how could Moshe prepare the Jews and the land of Israel for that day?

That is where the tribe of Menashe entered the picture.  Moshe realized that in the future, the east side of the Jordan would also need to undergo elevation and increased holiness.  For this purpose, it was not sufficient that the tribes of Gad and Reuven dwelt there, because their purpose was mainly to feed their cattle.  It was necessary for another tribe to be there as well, not only for their own well being, but in order to elevate the land.  Therefore, Moshe appointed the tribe of Menashe, who expressed a special connection with the land of Israel.  For example, the daughters of Tzelofchad, who asked for an inheritance in the land of Israel, were from the tribe of Menashe.  This demonstrates the strong identification that Menashe felt for the land of Israel.  However, they did not wish to entirely relinquish their share in the west bank as well, so they divided into two areas – with part of the tribe west of the Jordan river, and part of the tribe to the east.   And therefore their residence on the east bank of the Jordan was looked upon favorably, and they were able to prepare for the day of “expansion” to the east when the meshiach arrives, speedily in our days!

For a more detailed explanation, go to

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol. 28 page 210

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