Yosef, Gad, and Moshe

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by R. Gidon Rothstein

Ramban to VeZot HaBerachah, Week Two: Yosef, Gad, and Moshe

The Gd of the Bush

While blessing the tribe of Yosef (at the end of the berachah, he mentions both Ephraim and Menasheh), Moshe Rabbenu refers to retzon Shocheni seneh, the favor (or goodwill) of the One Who dwells in the bush.

To explain why Moshe would choose to refer to Hashem that way, Ramban points out that that’s where Moshe first “met” Hashem, and that the bush was at Sinai, which was why why Hashem told him that the Jews would worship at that place on their way out of Egypt. When the Divine Presence rested on Sinai for many days (before, during, and after the Giving of the Torah), it then joined the Jewish people (Ramban’s view is that the Mishkan enshrined the same Presence that appeared at Sinai, to let it remain connected to the people).

The point of mentioning it here is that Yosef’s land would be blessed by the retzon Hashem, the positive Will of Hashem. Ramban stops there, but he seems to me to be implying that there’s something about this manifestation of Hashem, which started with Moshe and then stuck with the people throughout the desert (and then resided in the Beit HaMikdash) that Moshe was blessing Yosef to have infuse his land.

Gad the Conqueror

Moshe’s first words to the tribe of Gad are actually about Hashem, baruch marchiv Gad, blessed is the One Who enlarges Gad’s territory. Ramban says it’s because Gad and Reuven both took their land on their own (rather than receive it by lot). Because they took all of Sichon’s land, they ended up with more land than any of the other tribes. According to that logic, though, Moshe should have said this a few verses earlier, when blessing Reuven (where, instead, he only said, “let Reuven live and not die, nor his people be few.”).

Ramban gives three answers, which may be complementary rather than distinct from each other. First, he says that what Moshe did say about Reuven was enough [he doesn’t elaborate, but I think he might mean Reuven needed this blessing before any other one would be meaningful—if the tribe was slated for destruction, or for tiny numbers, nothing else would really matter. We’d still need/want to know why that was Reuven’s original fate].

Secondly, Ramban suggested Gad were the better fighters, so they took all the border areas, which gave them the opportunity to expand in the future. Finally, he refers back to the fact that when the Torah told the story in Bamidbar, it mentioned Gad first. Ramban there had said that showed that it was Gad’s idea, they instigated the plan.

Each or all of these explain why Moshe speaks of expansive territory particularly regarding Gad.

Last Characterizations of Moshe

At the beginning of chapter 34, before Moshe is taken away, Hashem shows him all of Israel. No verse quite explains why Hashem showed him all this (Rashi to verse four suggests that it’s so Moshe can tell the Patriarchs that Hashem is about to fulfill the promise to them, and give the Land to the Jews; Ramban doesn’t discuss this view and its problems, so we can leave it).

Ramban’s own idea is that this is to help Moshe feel better. Such was his love for the Jewish people that seeing what they were about to get (without him, as Hashem stresses in verse four), knowing for himself that they were going to receive a beautiful and bountiful land, would ease the sting of his own passing. It’s a remarkable claim about this leader of our people, that after all he had gone through with them, after they had been part of the reason he lost his right to enter this Land he had worked so hard to bring them to, knowing they were getting a good outcome would make him happy, would let him go to his eternal reward with a sense of satisfaction.

Verse 10 says that no prophet arose after that who could compare with Moshe in that Hashem knew him face to face. While Rashi thought that was about how comfortable Moshe was, but Ramban focuses on the verse’s referring to Hashem’s knowing him face to face, and says that it’s about the level of prophecy Moshe experienced, the extent to which Hashem expressed Himself to Moshe (as it were).

That doesn’t seem all that different from Devarim 5;4, which says Hashem spoke to the entire people face to face at Sinai. What saves him is that the verse there says it was mi-toch ha’esh, from within a fire, a kind of intervening barrier reducing their access to Hashem’s ideas.

Moshe’s Miracles

Verse eleven refers to the signs Moshe performed. Ramban cites a Midrash that notes that all the other prophets had to pray to produce their miracles (Yehoshu’a getting the sun to stand still, Eliyahu and Elisha resurrecting boys, etc.), where Moshe would perform one instantly (The Midrash means the later Moshe; with the plagues in Egypt, Moshe in fact seems to have to pray when it’s time for them to stop).

Ramban thinks the Midrash’s meaning is unclear. He points us to Rambam in the Guide II;35, who said that what set these miracles apart was how public they were, that they were (as the verse says) le-Par’oh u-lechol avadav u-lechol artzo,” in front of Paroh, his servants, and his whole land, and “le-einei kol Yisrael, in the eyes of all Israel.” Moshe performed these miracles before those who agreed with him and those who didn’t, went through a public vetting process, as it were, gave a chance to any naysayers to show where he was tricking people.

Ramban disagrees about how unique that was. When Eliyahu declared a drought, then had the showdown with the priests of Ba’al on Mt. Carmel, that was very public (and Ovadyah tells Eliyahu that Achav, the king of Israel, searched the known world for him, which would have brought these events to everyone’s attention). When the sun stood still for Yehoshu’a, Bereshit Rabbah 6;9 said that was seen by all the nations of the world.

So it’s not a convincing theory to Ramban. He instead relates this back to the level of Moshe’s prophecy, that the verse is continuing its reasons to see Moshe as unique. There was the way in which Hashem “knew” him, face to face, and the kind and number of miracles Moshe did. While other prophets might have done ones that were as public, or as impressive, they didn’t then do them over and over, as Moshe did.

For our last look at pieces of Devarim this time through Ramban’s commentary, we saw a sense of the aspects of Hashem that became lastingly part of the Jewish people’s experience, we saw why Gad the tribe seems to have had the most expansive territory, and learned a bit more about Moshe, as a prophet, who always wanted the people’s welfare, and as a performer of miracles.

About Gidon Rothstein

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