Joshua – Chapter 22

Altar Egos

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Now that all 12 Tribes received their land, the men of Reuben, Gad and half of Menashe moved into their portions. Almost immediately, however, there was an enormous problem, as these two and a half Tribes assembled a giant altar on the eastern side of the Jordan River.

This was a huge source of concern to the other ten Tribes. What was the purpose of this huge altar? Was it for idolatry? (G-d forbid!) Perhaps they were starting a competing Mishkan (Tabernacle), which would be a rebellious act. The ten Tribes in Israel proper dispatched Pinchas and other emissaries to the two and a half Tribes. They reminded Reuben, Gad and half-Menashe of the consequences of the sin with the idol of Peor in the wilderness, and of Achan’s sin and how others died for it.

The two and a half Tribes in Trans-Jordan were surprised, to say the least. “G-d forbid!” they exclaimed. “We would never do that!” No, they explained, the intent of their altar was the exact opposite of rebellion. Because they were on the opposite side of the Jordan, they were afraid that their descendants would not realize that they, too, had a share in the religious center of Israel. Therefore, they built a replica of the altar as a constant reminder of the Mishkan, then in Shiloh. They named this model “Eid” – “Witness.”

The representatives of the ten Tribes found this explanation satisfactory and departed in peace.

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