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Yair ben Menasheh Conquering Warrior and Pioneering Settler

Parsha Halacha - Parshat Matot Masei - Shabbat Mevarchim Chodesh Menachem Av

Yair ben Menasheh

Conquering Warrior and Pioneering Settler 

Sponsored by Daniel and Melina Mizrachi in memory of Daniel’s father, Avraham ben Shmuel

Parsha Halacha is underwritten by a grant from Dr. Stephen and Bella Brenner and Dr. Morton Berg in loving memory of Stephen's father, Shmuel Tzvi ben Pinchas, and Bella's parents, Avraham ben Yitzchak and Leah bas HaRav Sholom Zev HaCohen.

Click here for a print version of this article 

At the end of the Torah portion of Matot, we read how parts of Transjordan were captured by Yair ben Menashe, as it says,[1] וְיָאִיר בֶּן מְנַשֶּׁה הָלַךְ וַיִּלְכֹּד אֶת חַוֺּתֵיהֶם וַיִּקְרָא אֶתְהֶן חַוֺּת יָאִיר - “Yair, son of Menashe, went and captured their villages, which he renamed Chavot-Yair.”

The commentaries translate the word חַוֺּתֵיהֶם in three different ways:

  1. Rashi, based on Targum Onkelus, says it means “villages.” The word חַוֺּתֵיהֶם can be understood as “their source of life.” (Since the letters vav and yud are interchangeable, it’s the same as the word חַיֹתֵיהֶם.) This alludes to the fact that the villages often supply life-giving food and water to the main city.[2]
  2. The Ibn Ezra says it means a Krayot, i.e., well populated cities.[3]
  3. According to the Radak, it means “unwalled cities.”

Rashi explains that Yair named the villages after himself since he had no children.[4] In this way, he would have a remembrance. In Parshat Devarim we find that Yair also conquered many large and fortified cities.[5] Yet it seems that he only named the villages “Chavot Yair.”

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains[6] that Yair chose to name the villages after himself since villages are sometimes referred to as “the daughters” of the main city[7] since they are dependent upon it. As such, it was appropriate to choose villages to replace (so to speak) his own offspring.

Yair chose the name “Chavot Yair” rather than “Benot Yair” as Chavot Yair can be translated to mean “the life of Yair” just as the name of the first women – Chava – means life.[8] As such, the cities that he conquered and turned into parts of the holy land represent his continued life and influence in this world. 

Who Was Yair ben Menashe?[9]

●      The Son of Menashe

Based on his title, it would seem that Yair ben Menashe was the son of Menashe who was the son of Yosef, the son of Ya’akov Avinu. This seems to be the opinion of the Midrash which says[10] that when Yair ben Menashe passed away, his estate went to his nephews, the sons of Machir ben Menashe. (Machir was certainly the son of Menashe as we see in Gen. 50:23 and in Numbers 26:29.) The Talmud also seems to follow this view as it says[11] that Yair was born while Yaakov was still alive and that he lived to enter the land of Israel. This would mean that he was at least 233 years old at the time that he conquered these cities, as the Jewish people lived in Egypt for 193 years after the passing of Yaakov, and the conquering of Transjordan took place in the 40th year after the Exodus. (In earlier generations, it was not unusual for people to live very long lives. See the end of Parshiyot Bereishit and No’ach.)

●      The Son of Seguv

The book of Chronicles[12] tells the story of Chetzron, son of Peretz, son of Yehudah, who married the daughter of Machir, the son of Menashe when he was 60 years old after having been previously married to someone else. That marriage produced Seguv who had a son named Yair who had 23 cities in the land of Gilad (the same area of Chavot Yair). Several of the commentaries[13] say that this Yair is the one that our Torah portion refers to as Yair ben Menashe. He was given that title because his paternal grandmother was from the tribe of Menashe and he received an inheritance in that tribe. (The Talmud says[14] that he inherited that portion from his wife who was from the tribe of Menashe. Although we read in the Torah portion that a daughter who inherits must marry within her tribe,[15] it is possible that Yair was already married to his wife at the time when that rule was made.) 

Why is Yair not Mentioned in Parshat Pinchas?

In Parshat Pinchas, when the Jewish people are counted,[16] only the family of Machir is mentioned as descendants of Menashe, and there is no mention of Yair at all. According to the opinion that Yair ben Menashe was the son of Menashe, one can explain that he is not listed there since he had no children and only families are listed as opposed to individuals. According to the opinion that Yair ben Menashe was the son of Seguv, he is not mentioned since he was a member of the tribe of Yehudah.

When Did He Conquer?

From the text of the Chumash, it seems like Yair did his conquering in the 40th year of the Jewish people’s stay in the desert. There is an opinion, however,[17] that he did this while his ancestor Yosef was still alive. [It seems that, as prime minister of Egypt, Yosef had the ability to allow this (or help this) to occur.] The Torah tells the story at this point although it took place many years earlier.

Yair HaGiladi

In the book of Shoftim,[18] we read about Yair HaGiladi who judged the Jewish people for 23 years and had 30 sons who rode on donkeys and who owned 30 cities in the Gilad. Since this Yair had sons while Yair ben Menashe did not, he cannot be the same person.[19] (In addition, according to some (See below.) Yair ben Menashe was killed many years earlier, in the battle of Ai.) On the other hand, Yair HaGiladi could have been the same person as Yair, son of Seguv (according to the opinion that he was not Yair ben Menashe). Either way, it is possible that the cities which he owned were the very cities of Chavot Yair which were originally conquered by his predecessor, Yair ben Menashe.[20]

The Only Casualty 

When the Jewish people conquered the city of Yericho, Yehoshua sanctified all of the spoils to G-d. Achan of the tribe of Yehudah stole from the spoils and hid it in his tent. G-d was angry at the Jewish people for this sin (it seems that people knew about it and covered for him), and consequently they lost the next battle, against the small town of Ai. The verse[21] recounts that “The men of Ai killed about thirty-six of them.” The verse goes on to describe how Yehoshua punished Achan and how they then won the second battle against Ai.

According to one opinion in the Talmud,[22] only one man was killed in the first battle of Ai, and he was Yair ben Menashe. His stature was equal to that of 36 members of the Sanhedrin (high court) which is why it says כִּשְׁלֹשִׁים וְשִׁשָּׁה אִישׁ which can be understood to mean “[someone who is] like 36 men.”

A New Nation from Yair ben Menashe

There is a source[23] which adds that, at first G-d was so “angry” that He wanted to kill all of the Jewish people and establish a new nation from Yair ben Menashe. But because Avraham, our Patriarch, had already built an altar and prayed for his descendants at that spot,[24] G-d changed the decree and instead of killing all the Jewish people and sparing Yair, he decided to kill Yair (as an atonement) and spare the Jewish people. 

Other Accomplishments 

●      One of the Tzadikim of the Generation

The Midrash says[25] that when Moshe was praying to G-d after the sin of the golden calf, he said to G-d, “Why are You angry, is it not for your Torah? I take responsibility for it. Me and my colleagues will fulfill it. Aharon and his sons will fulfill it. Yehoshua and Kalev will fulfill it. Yair and Machir will fulfill it. The Tazdikim will fulfill it. I will fulfill it…” We thus see that Moshe considered Yair to be one the most righteous men in that generation.

●      A Sacrifice for Yair

According to the Midrash,[26] when the tribal leader of Menashe sacrificed at the time of the dedication of the Mishkan, the chatat (sin) offering was to “atone”[27] for Yair who passed away without children, leaving his estate to his nephews. 

●      Member of the Sanhedrin

The Yalkut Shimoni says[28] that Yair and Machir, sons of Menashe, were two of the sages in the Sanhedrin who were appointed in Parshat Beha’alotecha.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach and a Chodesh Tov!

[1] Numbers 32:41

[2] See Megillah 4a and b.

[3] See Likutei Sichot vol. 29 page 117 and on and in the sources quoted there.

[4] But see Ramban (on verse 41), who writes that Yair was the father of Novach.

[5] In Deut 3:14 we find that Yair conquered the entire Chevel (District of) Argov. Several verses earlier (Deut. 3:4-5) we read that Chevel Argov contained 60 cities, all of which “were fortified with high walls, gates, and bars.”

[6] Likutei Sichot ibid 

[7] See Numbers 32:42.

[8] See Gen. 3:20 and Ibn Ezra that the yud and vov are often interchanged for each other. He explains that Adam didn’t want to call his wife Chaya as that word can refer to (wild) animals.

[9] Many of the sources for this article were gleaned from an article by Rabbi Yehudah Bergman on page 134 of Avivim (Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav, Jerusalem 2004).

[10] Bamidbar Rabah 14:7

[11] Bava Batra 121b

[12] I Chronicles 2:21 - 22

[13] Radak

[14] Bava Batra 112a

[15] Numbers 36:6

[16] Ibid 26:29

[17] Pirush leTalmid HaRasag on Chronicles, ibid

[18] Judges 10:3-4

[19] See Radak on the verse.

[20] Abarbanel on the verse

[21] Joshua 7:5

[22] Bava Batra 121b and Sanhedrin 44aa

[23] Alef Beit of Ben Sira 1. Although this is an ancient text, it does not seem to be accepted as a part of our oral tradition. See Olelot by Rabbi Reuven Margaliyot, siman 12 and Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach in No’am vol. 1, page 149 who both reject it as a reliable source.

[24] See Gen. 12:8 and Rashi there.

[25] Shemot Rabbah 43:6

[26] Bamidbar Rabbah 14:7

[27] Although not having children is not (necessarily) a choice one makes, it is possible that it is a punishment for another sin that person did (Matnot Kehunah on Bamidbar Rabbah).

[28] Remez 736

Sun, June 23 2024 17 Sivan 5784