Dvar for Matot-Maasei (Numbers 30:2-36:13)
As the Jews approach the end of their journey through the desert, our Parsha relates the tribes of Reuven and Gad requesting to settle east of the Jordan, rather than inheriting a piece of the land of Israel. After the previous mistake of rejecting the land 40 years prior, why would they risk making the same mistake again? Then, as Moshe grants their request in exchange for fighting with their brothers on the front line, suddenly half the tribe of Menashe is included in the settlements east of the Jordan. Why would Menashe be instructed to settle there when they never asked for it, and why would only half of the tribe be included?
Ami Silver of AlephBeta suggests that there is a subtext to these negotiations between Moshe and the tribes. When Moshe warns the two tribes that they may be punished the Torah says “vayosef od” (32:15), “and G-d will leave the nation to die in the desert again.” To which the tribes respond by approaching Moshe (32:16-18) with their intentions to defend their brothers, just like Yehudah approached Yosef years before in defense of his brothers (Bereishit 37:22). These references coincide with the tribe of Menashe, who was named by Yosef because he represented a new beginning (Bereishit 41:51). When Moshe saw that the tribes were loyal to their brothers, he was pleased that the sibling rivalry was a thing of the past, and added Menashe as a reminder to keep looking forward.
By dividing Menashe’s tribe, Moshe created a connection between both sides of the Jordan River. It wasn’t just about moving forward while learning from the past, it was about doing it together, as a family. What gave Moshe the comfort that the tribes would act as a family was the way Reuven and Gad approached him to explain their position in the first place. It wasn’t adversarial, but collaborative. The lesson is far-reaching, and applies to every aspect of our lives: Respectful and thoughtful discussions among family, friends and even adversaries will lead us forward to a happy future.