Parshat V'zot Ha'bracha

(To prepare for this shiur,
see the questions for self study.)

V'zot Ha'bracha is a classic example of a Parsha that almost everyone knows by heart, but almost no one understands. [That's because its words are very difficult to translate.]

In this week's shiur, we try to 'break ice' by undertaking a basic analysis of the parsha's structure and theme. As we will see, it's really not so hard after all.

Introduction
Let's begin with the two most obvious problems we encounter when studying the "brachot" [blessings] in Parshat V'zot Ha'bracha:
1) One tribe is missing! [i.e. Shimon doesn't receive a blessing];
2) The order of the tribes' blessings proceed in what appears to be a rather random sequence.

To better appreciate these two problems, the following table lists the tribes according to their order in V'zot Ha'bracha. To accentuate the apparent lack of sequence in this list, next to each "shevet" [tribe] we note their respective matriarch and relative position according to birth.

The order of the Tribes
# Shevet Matriarch Position of Birth
1) Reuven Leah 1
2) Yehuda Leah 4
3) Levi Leah 3
4) Binyamin Rachel 12
5) Yosef Rachel 11 [includes Efraim & Menashe]
6) Zevulun Leah 6
7) Yissachar Leah 5
8) Gad Zilpah 9
9) Dan Bilhah 7
10) Naftali Bilhah 8
11) Asher Zilpah 10
* Note that shevet Shimon is missing!

Carefully study this list. Although the tribes are not listed in order of age or common matriarch, they do clearly divide between the children of Yaakov's wives (Rachel & Leah) and those of the maidservants (Bilhah & Zilpah). Within these two groups, however, there seems to be little logic in the progression.

For example, although it's pretty clear why Reuven is first, as he is the oldest, why does Moshe skip to Yehuda? Likewise, why does Binyamin precede his older brother Yosef, and why do the children of Rachel 'interrupt' in between the children of Leah?

Finally, why does Zevulun precede Yissachar, why does Gad precede Dan, and why do the children of Bilhah 'interrupt' the children of Zilpah?

In summary, although the list is clearly not altogether random, it doesn't appear to follow any definite order, either.

In the following shiur, we attempt to identify the underlying rationale behind the sequence of Moshe's presentation. To that end, we must first consider the nature and purpose of these blessings.

From Yaakov to Moshe
V'zot Ha'bracha is not the first time in Chumash where we find that each tribe receives a blessing. Recall that back in Parshat Va'ychi, Yaakov Avinu blesses each tribe before his death. Unlike Moshe, however, Yaakov addresses his children in almost exact age order: Reuven, Shimon, Levi, Yehuda, Zevulun & Yissachar [note slight deviation], Dan (first born of Bilhah), Gad (first born of Zilpah), Asher, and Naftali.

[The only problem, of course, is that Zevulun precedes his older brother Yissachar (for explanation, see Seforno Br. 49:13, based on Midrash Tanchuma Vayechi 11). Although Gad & Asher precede Naftali, they may very well have been born first, depending on how one understands Breishit 30:5-10.]

The reason why Yaakov blesses his children in age order is quite simple. As we explained in our shiur on Parshat Va'ychi, Yaakov (prior to his death) blesses each son according to his individual potential, as exhibited and manifest throughout each respective son's life. Therefore, whereas these blessings relate to personal destiny, it is only reasonable that they follow (more or less) the order of the sons' births.

Moshe, by contrast, is not the 'dying father' of twelve sons. He is rather the 'departing leader' of twelve tribes to whom he has given the Torah and who are about to conquer and occupy the Land of Israel. As we would expect, his blessings accurately reflect the setting and circumstances in which they are administered.

As we will see, each bracha relates in one form or another to either:
the forthcoming military conquest of the land,
the nature of the specific "nachala" (territory) apportioned to that tribe, or
a leadership function charged upon that tribe.

We will first demonstrate that this is indeed the case, and then we will be able to answer our original questions concerning the order of the tribes' presentation.

The 'Gist' of the Blessings
First, let's quickly review the gist of each blessing. Notice that almost every blessing relates to either the defining characteristic of its tribe's "nachala" or the tribe's role in the imminent conquest of the land.

Reuven
"Let Reuven live and not die, and let his numbers be counted." (33:6)

Rashi explains that this "bracha" addresses Moshe's concern that Reuven may not receive any "nachala" at all! Considering that Yaakov basically cursed Reuven instead of blessing him (on account of his sin with Bilhah), Reuven may have lost his right to a "nachala," just as he forfeited his claim to the "bechora" (birthright). [See also Targum Onkelos.] Additionally, the tribe of Reuven had already 'set up camp' outside the biblical borders of Eretz Canaan (in Transjordan), another reason to doubt whether Reuven would keep his status as an 'official' tribe of Israel. As Rashi explains, Moshe's blessing counters this fear and reassures Reuven that he will remain 'alive,' an integral part of the "nachala" of Am Yisrael.

Chizkuni, however, offers a 'military' explanation for Reuven's blessing. Since the tribe of Reuven had promised to fight as the "chalutz" [the front line attack force - see Bamidbar 32:20-32] in the conquest of Eretz Yisrael, Moshe confers upon them a special blessing of protection in battle. He prays on their behalf that their 'number' ["mispar"] - population - should remain the same after battle as it was beforehand. [This approach also appears in the commentary of Rabbenu Yosef Bechor Shor.] (See board #1).

Yehuda
"Hear Hashem the [battle] cry of Yehuda and help him lead his people. Make his hands strong for him, and help him against his enemies." (33:7) [See Rashi/Ibn Ezra]

Clearly, the bracha to Yehuda relates to his military leadership, as Moshe foresees that the soldiers of shevet Yehuda will be particularly enthusiastic and diligent in the conquest of their portion in the Land (see Yehoshua chapter 14 and Sefer Shoftim chapter 1) (see board #2).

Levi
"[After a short reference to Aharon, the tribal leader and kohen gadol]... They shall teach Your laws to Yaakov and Your instructions to Israel; they shall offer ktoret... and whole- offerings [olot] on the mizbayach. God should bless his chayil and favor his undertakings. Help him smite the loins of those who rise against him, and don't allow his enemies to succeed." (33:8-11)

The focal point of Levi's bracha is his responsibility to provide spiritual leadership, to teach Hashem's laws and officiate in His Temple (see board #3). Interestingly, however, even this function is presented in 'military' jargon [="chaylo" in 33:11].

[Note also 33:9, an apparent reference to Bnei Levi's preparedness to prosecute and execute those who sinned at Chet Ha'egel (see Rashi 33:9 and Shmot 32:26-29). Indeed, their conduct at that point was of a "military" nature.]

Whereas all other tribes earned a "nachala," a specific, designated portion of land, shevet Levi was scattered among the various tribes in order to serve as teachers throughout the country (note Devarim 18:1-2, "Hashem hu nachlatam"!). Understandably, then, their blessing relates to their leadership role, rather than their allocated portion in the land.

Binyamin
"Beloved to God, He shall allow His shchina to dwell securely within him. He constantly protects [=surrounds] him, as He rests between his shoulders." (33:12)

This blessing (recently brought to fame by a popular Avraham Fried song, "u'l'Binyamin amar...") focuses on the special quality of Binyamin's "nachala," its designation to house the Bet Ha'Mikdash in Yerushalayim (see board #4).

Yosef [Efraim & Menashe]
"God's blessing is given to his land, with the bounty of dew from heaven... with the bounty of the earth in its fullness...
His 'horns' are like those of a wild ox, with them he gores other nations... these are the 'tens of thousands' of Efraim and these are the 'thousands' of Menashe." (see 33:13-17)

The precise translation of this blessing is somewhat elusive, but it clearly speaks of the bountiful nature of the "nachala" apportioned to Yosef. It appears that Yosef will bear the responsibility of forming the backbone of Israel's agrarian economy (as was Yosef's job in Egypt - see Or Hachayim here). The final verse alludes to Yosef's military competence that will grant him victory over enemy nations (see board #5). Specifically, Rashi understands the final pasuk as a reference to the leadership of Yehoshua - a descendant of Efrayim - who led Am Yisrael in their conquest of Eretz Canaan.

Zevulun & Yissachar
"Rejoice Zevulun as you go out [to war; compare with Bamidbar 27:17] and Yissachar in your tents. [Their prosperity will catalyze] a call to other nations to ascend God's mountain [see Ibn Ezra & Seforno] where they will offer proper sacrifices, for they draw from the riches of the sea and from the hidden hoards of the sand." (33:18)

The opening sentence may refer to Zevulun's military prowess [see Ibn Ezra's interpretation, in contrast to Rashi's, and see Shoftim 5:18], but the conclusion of the pasuk clearly relates to the importance of his "nachala." His territory was situated along the sea [the coast from Caesarea to the Acco/Haifa area], thus forming Israel's gateway to foreign trade and, consequently, economic relations with other nations. Moshe anticipates that these business alliances will lead to the recognition on the part of those nations of the God of Israel - the primary long-term goal of Am Yisrael (see Devarim 4:5-8 & previous shiurim on Parshiot Noach & Lech Lecha) (see board #6).

The "nachala" of Yissachar, too, facilitates international trade (and influence), as it lies in Emek Yizrael, at the heart of the via maris - the ancient trade route connecting Egypt with Mesopotamia. [See Seforno 33:19, who alludes to Yissachar's role in international trade.] Furthermore, Rashbam (Breishit 49:14) understands the "tents" of Yissachar as a reference to this tribe's involvement in agriculture, while Rabbenu Yosef Bechor Shor (here) associates Yissachar's tents with the cattle industry (compare with Breishit 4:20). All this, too, relates directly to Yissachar's portion: the fertile soil of Emek Yizrael renders it an ideal location for both agriculture and livestock breeding (see board #7).

Gad
"Blessed be He who enlarges [the "nachala" of] Gad. He is poised like a lion to tear off arm and scalp [i.e. military strength]. He chose for himself the best ['nachala']..." (33:20-21)

[The rest of the pasuk is very difficult, but most likely refers to his nachala as the chosen spot for Moshe's burial site - see Rashi.]

Once again, Moshe's bracha focuses on the unique nature of the given tribe's "nachala" and their military capabilities (see board #8).

Dan
"Dan is like a lion's whelp that leaps from the Bashan." (33:22)

Dan's blessing obviously relates to their military might and the location of their "nachala" - at the western slopes of the Golan Heights [Bashan is the biblical name for the Golan - see Devarim 3:8-10], today the area of Tel Dan and Kiryat Shmona in the Chula valley of the Upper Galil. Additionally, Rashi explains the lion metaphor as a reference to Dan's location on the border, standing guard against enemy intrusion (see board #9).

[In Devarim 4:43 we find that the Golan region was included in Menashe's nachala, not Dan's, as Moshe seems to indicate here. However, as the Targum here explains, our pasuk means that Dan lived near the Bashan, and the land in his region was watered by the streams flowing down from the Golan. Furthermore, Ibn Ezra and others explain Moshe's bracha as having nothing to do with Dan's portion, only the tribe's military strength. He interprets "yezanek min habashan" as modifying the lion to whom Dan is compared, rather than the tribe of Dan itself.]

Naftali
"Naftali should be satiated [for his "nachala"] is full of God's blessing, to the west and south (of his brother Dan) he shall/must conquer his land." (33:23) [See Ibn Ezra's comments regarding the words, "yam v'darom."]

[See also Ramban - note why he quotes the Midrash.]

Again, Moshe's bracha relates to the agricultural potential of this "nachala" and the conquest of that portion (see board #10). [Parenthetically, Naftali's nachala is situated in the fertile and beautiful region of the Upper Galil, to the west and south of Tel Dan (including Zefat & Har Meron).]

Asher
"May Asher be the most blessed of sons, may he be the favorite of his brothers and may he dip his foot in oil. Iron and copper are your door-bolts, and your security should last for all your days." (33:24)

Much of these psukim requires further elucidation, but what is clear is that they relate to two unique characteristics of Asher's "nachala": its abundance of olive trees (and hence olive oil) and its location on Israel's northern border (see board #11). [See Ramban's interpretation, that Asher's portion guards the country's northern border (and thus serves as an "iron lock" securing the country). See also Seforno, who explains that the presence of iron & copper locks on their homes reflects the wealth of their land.]

Summary
As we review all these brachot, it becomes clear that they all focus on the nature of each "nachala" and the conquest of the land. In fact, almost all the commentators, especially Ibn Ezra, Chizkuni, and Seforno (in addition to Rashi and Ramban), relate to this aspect of the "nachalot" throughout their interpretation of these psukim.

Aware of the geographic division of the tribes in the land (note 34:1-4 as well as Yaakov's blessings) and their respective military capabilities, Moshe blesses each tribe prior to his death to encourage them to achieve their fullest potential in occupying the Land of Israel.

Now that we understand the basic purpose behind these brachot, we can return to our original question and make some sense out of the seemingly random order of their presentation.

'Inherit' Order
As you have probably guessed by now, since the "brachot" focus on the "nachalot," it stands to reason that the division of Eretz Yisrael among the tribes serves as the basis of the sequence of presentation in this parsha. Let's see how it works. (A map of the "nachalot" of the "shvatim" from Sefer Yehoshua will be helpful for the next section of the shiur.)

Moshe begins his blessings with Reuven. He does so not because Reuven is the oldest, but because he is the first shevet to take his "nachala," as recorded in Bamidbar chapter 32 (see also Devarim 3:16-19) (see board #12).

Next, we would expect to find Gad, who joined Reuven in their request to take their "nachala" in Transjordan. However, there is one important, 'overriding' rule in the "brachot" - that the tribes from Yaakov's wives (Leah & Rachel) take precedence over the tribes from the maidservants (Bilhah & Zilpah).

[This principle explains why Gad later precedes Dan, even though Dan is older (and the head of a "machaneh"!). Gad is blessed first because he took his "nachala" first.]

This also helps clarify the content of Reuven's blessing. Moshe must emphasize that even though Reuven's "nachala" lies outside the borders of Eretz Canaan, they retain their status as an 'official' shevet (as explained earlier).

Yehuda First
Once we skip Gad, Reuven is followed by Yehuda - the first of the tribes to successfully conquer his portion of land, as detailed both in Sefer Yehoshua (chapters 14-15) and in Sefer Shoftim (1:1-15) (see board #13). This also explains why Yehuda's blessing focuses on his military power.

A 'Solution' for Shimon
Once Moshe Rabeinu begins with Yehuda's portion, the southern region of Eretz Yisrael, he now works his way 'up north,' through Binyamin to Efraim and Menashe. Not only does this explain why Binyamin precedes Yosef, but herein also lies the clue as to why Shimon is absent from V'zot Ha'bracha - his "nachala" is included within the borders of Yehuda (see Yehoshua 19:1 & 19:9!).

[Note Rashi on 33:7 (towards the end), where he quotes a Midrash Tehilim that the bracha to Shimon is actually 'included' within the bracha to Yehuda: "shma Hashem" contains the first letters of Shimon's name, "shin.mem.ayin." In fact, the same wording is used when Shimon is first named by his mother: "ki shama Hashem ki snuah anochi" (see Breishit 29:33!).]

Why Levi & Binyamin Come First
Now, we must explain why Levi follows immediately after Yehuda, before all the other shvatim.

Perhaps an even more basic question, however, is why Moshe administers a bracha to Levi in the first place. Since, as we have demonstrated, these brachot relate specifically to the "nachalot" apportioned to the tribes, then a bracha for Levi seems out of place, given the fact that no portion was allocated for this tribe!

The answer is actually quite simple. The tribe of Levi did, in fact, receive a "nachala" - "nachalat Hashem" (see Devarim 18:1-2). The entire shevet is dedicated to the service in the Bet Ha'Mikdash and the responsibility of teaching Torah to Bnei Yisrael; this is their portion.

This answers the first question, as well. As Moshe realizes (through "nevuah"), the Bet Hamikdash will be constructed along the border between the tribes of Yehuda and Binyamin (see Yehoshua 15:8 & 18:16). Therefore, since Levi's "portion" is, in essence, the Bet Hamikdash, the tribe is situated, for all intents and purposes, in between Yehuda (to the south) and Binyamin (to the north). Whereas Levi's "nachala," as it were, lies immediately north of Yehuda's, their blessing immediately follows the bracha to Yehuda (see board #14).

[Furthermore, although Levi receives cities within many other "nachalot," Yehuda is the first tribe to supply cities to the Leviim (see Yehoshua 21:1-4). This may be an additional reason why Levi follows Yehuda in V'zot Ha'bracha.]

This interpretation also explains the content of Levi's bracha. Levi doesn't receive a "nachala" in the same sense as the other tribes. Their blessing therefore focuses instead on their responsibility to work in the Mikdash and teach Torah, tasks to which the Torah earlier refers as "Hashem hu nachalato" (18:1-2).

Binyamin thus follows Levi, as their nachala contains, as its southern border, the Bet ha'Mikdash (the site where the Leviim officiate - their "nachala") (see board #15). Accordingly, Binyamin's bracha deals exclusively with God's promise that His shchina will dwell within this tribe's borders ["shoulders"].

Yosef & the Shomron / Yissachar & Zevulun
As we proceed northward from the territory of Binyamin, we enter the region settled by Yosef, first Efraim and then Menashe (see board #16). Moshe's blessing to Yosef focuses primarily on the land's vast agricultural potential and the tribe's military strength.

The border of Yosef extends from the Mediterranean sea to the Jordan river, covering the entire Shomron mountain range. Yissachar and Zevulun occupied the area north of Yosef's border, Zevulun to the west (along the coast) and Yissachar to the east (in Emek Yizrael until the Jordan River). As explained earlier, this nachala serves as the gateway to foreign trade, convoys and shipping, as reflected in the blessings to Yissachar and Zevulun.

Although there no 'geographical' reason seems to warrant Zevulun's precedence over his older brother, Yissachar, Moshe Rabeinu follows the pattern set by Yaakov Avinu, who also blessed Zevulun before Yissachar (see Breishit 49:13-14). Zevulun precedes Yissachar in Sefer Yehoshua chapter 19, as well, in the context of the apportionment of the land among the tribes (see board #18).

[Rashi also provides an answer relating to the famous Yissachar/Zevulun 'work/study Torah' arrangement.]

Bnei Ha'Shfachot
As explained above, Moshe blesses the children of Yaakov's maidservants only after he completes the blessings to Leah and Rachel's children. However, consistent with his pattern heretofore, he presents his blessings in the order of their nachalot, rather than the order of their births.

Moshe begins this group of shvatim with Gad, who, together with Reuven, took their nachala first, in Transjordan, before the other tribes established their settlements (see board #19). Dan & Naftali follow, as their nachalot are situated to the north of Yissachar & Zevulun (see board #21). Finally he comes to Asher, whose nachala extends along the entire northern border of Israel (today southern Lebanon) (see board #22).

This explains what would have otherwise been considered a very strange internal order within the children of the maidservants.

Once again, this analysis can help us better appreciate the content of Moshe's brachot. These four brachot focus on the beauty of the land, the tribe's need for expansion, and how they protect Israel's borders. Moshe's blessings thus encourage these tribes, who reside far away from the center of the country, to rise to the challenges their "nachalot" present. In Sefer Yehoshua and Sefer Shoftim, we see indeed how difficult this challenge truly was.

The Opener & the Finale
Now that we have explained the individual brachot and their sequence, let's conclude our shiur by taking a quick look at Moshe Rabeinu's opening and concluding comments, to see how they relate to our discussion thus far.

Moshe introduces his brachot with a four-pasuk 'opener' (33:2-5) and a corresponding four-pasuk 'closer' (33:26-29). The introductory psukim - the precise translation of which requires further discussion beyond the scope of this shiur - clearly point to Ma'amad Har Sinai and Moshe's role as the transmitter of the laws commanded at Har Sinai.

Moshe's closing remarks focus on God as the Protector of Israel, Who provides close supervision (33:26), assistance in battle (33:27,29), and agricultural and economic prosperity (33:28).

Not only do these opening and closing remarks form the appropriate framework for the individual blessings, they also directly relate to primary theme of Sefer Devarim (and, for that matter, Chumash as a whole). God has chosen the Jewish nation to represent Him as His model nation to guide mankind in the proper direction. To that end, He gave them the Torah (see 33:2-5), which contains the specific laws whose observance in the Promised Land leads to the realization of that goal. Now, before his death, Moshe blesses Bnei Yisrael that they fulfill that potential, that God assist them in their achievement of these goals, in the "nachala" they are about to conquer and occupy.

What better way is there for Moshe to finish the Torah, thus concluding his life's mission!

Virtual ClassRoom enhancements by Ronni Libson.

For Further Iyun
A. Be sure to see Ramban & Ibn Ezra on 33:7. Many of the points raised in the above shiur are discussed in their pirushim to this pasuk. The Ramban is rather lengthy, but well worth reading!

B. In the context of the bracha to Reuven - that he should "live," we mentioned several explanations: either that he should not lose his portion on account of his sin with Bilha, or he should retain his status as part of the twelve tribes in spite of settling in Transjordan, or that his men should survive the dangers of the front line where they stood during the conquest of Eretz Yisrael. Abarbanel adds an additional element to this final approach, that the women and children of Reuven remained behind across the Jordan as the men went to fight in Eretz Yisrael proper (see Bamidbar 32). Moshe thus prays on behalf of the defenseless wives and youngsters who were exposed to the possibility of attack by hostile neighbors.

With respect to the possibility that Moshe was concerned about the Jordan River isolating Reuven from the rest of the nation, see Seforno on this pasuk, who advances a variation of this general approach.

C. Moshe beseeches, "Hear, Hashem, the cry of Yehuda…" There are two ways to explain this "cry." In the shiur we followed the approach of Rashi and Ramban, that this "cry" refers to wartime prayers. Moshe expresses his hope that Hashem will listen to Yehuda's pleas during warfare. Chazal, however, in Masechet Makkot 11b, explain that Moshe here prays for Yehuda's release from the excommunication to which he was subjected as a result of his promise to Yaakov (Breishit 43:9). Based on these two approaches and our discussion of Reuven's bracha, explain the phrase "V'zot l'Yehuda" and the relationship between Moshe's brachot to Reuven and Yehuda. [See Da'at Zkenim.]

D. Targum Yonatan on Dvarim 18:2 ("Hashem Hu nachalato") writes that the twenty-four gifts given to the kohanim constitute the "nachala" of the tribe of Levi. Compare this comment with our understanding of Levi's "nachala," and assess this notion in light of Moshe's bracha to Levi and this shiur.

E. Rashi offers one interpretation of the final clause of Levi's bracha (33:11) that it foresees the battle waged by the Chashmonaim (who were kohanim, descendants of Levi) against the Greeks (see also Targum Yonatan). Based on your knowledge of the history of Chanukah and in light of our discussion in this shiur, explain how this struggle may be viewed as part of Levi's conquest of "his portion" in Eretz Yisrael. How does this Midrashic approach relate to the pshat of the pasuk as explained in this shiur?

F. A particularly novel interpretation of Binyamin's bracha is offered by Rabbenu Yosef Bechor Shor. He explains the bracha as referring not to Hashem's dwelling in Binyamin's portion, but rather to the constant influx of kohanim and Levi'im into the borders of Nachalat to serve in the Mikdash. (Meaning, "yishkon" and "chofef" modify the tribe of Levi, not God.) Thus, the brachot to Levi and Binyamin essentially constitute a single bracha. Explain how this may add to the ideas discussed in this shiur regarding the juxtaposition between these two brachot.

G. The Midrash towards the beginning of Shmot Rabba writes that the name "Zevulun" refers to the fact "that Hashem had His Shchina dwell among them [Bnei Yisrael]… 'Zevulun' means the Bet Hamikdash, as it says, 'I [Shlomo] have built a 'Bet Zvul' for You…'"

Explain this association between Zevulun and the Mikdash based on Moshe's bracha to this tribe in V'zot Habracha.

H. Contrast Targum Onkelos' translation of the expression "gur aryeh" in Yaakov's bracha to Yehuda (Breishit 49:9) with his explanation of the exact same term in Moshe's bracha to Dan (Dvarim 33:22). Explain how this difference may reflect the distinction between Yaakov's brachot and Moshe's, as discussed in this shiur. [See also question K in Further Iyun.]

I. Back to Shimon
We suggested our own reason for Shimon's conspicuous absence from this parsha, but the commentators provide several additional reasons. Rashi cites their sin with Bnot Moav, the responsibility for which seems to lie with shevet Shimon. Ibn Ezra suggests that Moshe may be following the lead of Yaakov, who cursed Shimon & Levi instead of blessing them. Levi, however, earned Moshe's blessing on account of Aharon, a man of stature with no equal in the tribe of Shimon. [In terms of Reuven, who was also cursed by Yaakov, the Ibn Ezra explains that in reality Yaakov did bless Reuven, and he thus earned Moshe's bracha, as well. Rabbenu Yosef Bechor Shor also maintains that Moshe followed Yaakov's lead in withholding a brachah from Shimon, but offers a different explanation for Reuven's right to a bracha. Since Moshe himself ordered the tribe of Reuven to join Gad in the front lines in the conquest of Eretz Yisrael, he had to bless Reuven with military success, just as he blessed Gad.]

Ramban posits an interesting theory - the 'twelve rule' - that whenever the tribes are mentioned, there can be only twelve of them. Usually, Levi is omitted and Yosef is replaced by Efraim & Menashe. But now that all three - Levi, Efraim and Menashe - must be included, one shevet must be dropped. Shimon, whose nachala, as we have seen, is situated within Yehuda's portion, and who was cursed by Yaakov, serves as the best candidate to forfeit his blessing.

J. One question we have not addressed is why Menashe is not mentioned before Yehuda. After all, Menashe - like Reuven - settled before the other tribes, in Transjordan. This issue relates to the general and more complicated topic concerning nachalat Menashe, why it was divided into two, and how their portion relates (or doesn't relate) to Reuven and Gad's - all beyond the scope of this week's shiur.

K. We noted in the shiur the fundamental distinction between Moshe's brachot in our parsha and Yaakov's blessings to his sons in Parshat Vayechi. The Midrash, however, actually draws a parallel of sorts between these two sets of blessings:

"And this is that which their father [Yaakov] spoke unto them: [Yaakov told his sons,] another man of similar stature is destined to bless you, and from where I have left off he shall begin..." (Breishit Rabba 100:12)

Where in the history of Am Yisrael did Yaakov "leave off"? Where did Moshe begin? How may this Midrash be understood in light of this shiur?

L. We did not address in the shiur the reason why Moshe felt compelled to divide the tribes into the two groups, the sons of the maidservants and those of Rachel and Leah. A precedent for this differentiation with regard to Bnei Yisrael's settlement in the land exists back in Parashat Vayechi. Yaakov Avinu bestows upon Yosef the legal status of the "bechora," which grants him a double portion in Eretz Yisrael (Breishit 48:5). Divrei Hayamim I 5:1 tells us that the rights of the "bechora" were taken away from Reuven as a result of his sin with Bilha and transferred to Yosef. Needless to say, several children - including two firstborns, from both Bilha and Zilpa - were born in between Reuven and Yosef. However, the firstborns of the maidservants did not qualify for the rights of the double "nachala." Apparently, although all twelve tribes earned equal membership in Bnei Yisrael, some hierarchical system remained at least with regard to the settlement of the Land. Perhaps for this reason Moshe arranged his blessings for the successful occupation and settlement of Eretz Yisrael according to this division.

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