Chapter Make Brain Hurt...By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
This chapter is deceptively complicated as the family lists go. It starts with the sons of Issachar. After naming them (Tola, Pu’ah, Yashuv and Shimron), the text specifies that there are four of them, a fact the reader could easily discern. Any explanation for why Chronicles occasionally does this is purely speculative, though one possibility is to suggest that the list is exhaustive. We are told that the family of Issachar included generations of powerful soldiers. Then we are told that sons of Yizrachya were Michoel, Ovadya, Yoel and Yishiya – five in all. But there are four sons? Apparently there were five family heads: Yizrachya and his four sons. Each son headed their own large family while Yizrachya personally headed a consortium of smaller families from his other, unnamed sons.
At the end of the families of Issachar, we are told that Benjamin had three sons: Bela, Becher and Yedia’el. This may refer to Tribe of Benjamin, but it may also refer to a family in Issachar whose father was named Benjamin. Benjamin the son of Jacob had sons named Bela and Becher, but he did not have a son named Yedia’el. That in itself is not problematic as many people had more than one name, but Benjamin had ten sons altogether and there’s no apparent reason to omit the others. Also, the sons of Bela do not jibe with the names given in Numbers chapter 26 – or in the very next chapter! (For that matter, why give a partial accounting of Benjamin here if the Tribe is covered in full in chapter 8?) So there are compelling arguments that it is a family of Issachar here in chapter 7, but there are prominent commentators who feel that it is the Tribe of Benjamin under discussion and their position cannot be discounted.
Verse 12 tells us that Shupim and Chupim were the sons of Ir, Chushim the son of Acher. This verse is not connected to the previous or the next one, so it’s unclear who these people are. Presumably, they are a Benjaminite family, though there is an opinion that Acher may be Dan, whose Tribe is otherwise not represented in the family lists. (Why might Dan be called Acher? His blessing in Genesis 49:17 contains the word “achor” – backwards. Why SHOULD he be called Acher? There’s the mystery.) Verse 13 discusses the Tribe of Naftali and says “the sons of Bilha.” This supports the idea that Acher might be Dan, as Dan and Naftali together were the sons of Bilha.
The families of Menashe begin in verse 14. From verse 15, it would appear that Machir of the family of Menashe married a sister of the aforementioned Shupim and Chupim named Maacha. The only other prominent person named from this family is Tzelofchad, who died in the wilderness and whose daughters inherited him as described in Numbers chapter 26. The daughters weren’t the only powerful women in the family. Machir had a daughter who ruled over a some territory and whose sons are listed in a fashion normally reserved for men.
The families of Ephraim begin in verse 20. We are told about some sons of Ephraim who were killed by the men of Gath. There is a tradition that the victims were people who miscalculated and tried to leave Egyptian exile prematurely; the Talmud in Sanhedrin 92b hypothesizes that theirs were the bones reanimated in Ezekiel chapter 37.
The accounting of the Tribe of Asher begins in verse 30, including the sons of Asher and their sister Serach. The Midrash tells us that Serach was the one who broke the news to Jacob that Joseph was still alive. She was blessed with an extraordinarily long life, being among those who left Egypt over a century later and even being associated with the wise woman in 2 Samuel chapter 20. In fact, Serach apparently survived until Talmudic times, since the Midrash details how she corrected Rabbi Yochanan’s description of the Red Sea splitting based on the fact that she was an eye witness (Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 11:13).
The name Birzayis in verse 31 is taken by most commentators to be a place rather than a person. Zayis is an olive and the territory of Asher was renowned for its oil; this was part of the blessing given them by Moses in Deuteronomy 33:24. Finally, we are told that Asher was a family of renowned warriors and that Ezra got the information about them from their military records.