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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Bamidbar

Parashat Bamidbar

Ve'alav

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When camped in the wilderness the twelve tribes of Israel were divided into four groups - three tribes on each side of the camp, one that was the standard bearer and two additional tribes. When reporting the census of the Jewish people in this week's parashah, the Torah first tells us the number of adult men in the lead tribe and then the number of people in the two other tribes. The lead tribe on the western side of the camp was Efraim. "Ve'alav" - literally "on him," i.e., "on his side" - was Menasheh. Regarding the other sides of the camp, the Torah uses the term "vehachonim alav" - literally "and camping on him," i.e., on his side) to refer to the adjacent tribe.

While there seems to be little significance as to which term is used, the Netziv tells us that the term used in each case indicates the relationship between the two tribes. While "hachonim alav" indicates that the second tribe was dependent on the main one, "ve’alav", as used in reference to Menasheh, means that the second tribe was superior to the main one, Efraim.

Ya'akov blessed Efraim in spiritual matters. Efraim was, therefore, the leader in the desert, because the entire existence of the Jewish people in the desert was based on miracles. In this and subsequent censuses in the desert, however, Menashe, the older of Yosef’s children, was "alav," superior to his brother. In preparation for entry into Eretz Israel, where daily existence is natural, it is the biological firstborn who must lead the people.

As the Netziv points out, living in Eretz Israel is natural for the Jewish people. Life in Eretz Yisrael means leading a normal, everyday existence - protecting ourselves, supporting ourselves, etc. We pursue our daily, mundane activities, having been promised that the "eyes" of God watch over us in Eretz Israel throughout the year (Devarim 11:12).

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