The Disagreements of Ephraim and Manasseh by Rabbi Aryeh Katz as Summarized and Explained by Yair Davidiy
Rabbinical Sources on the Tribes as collated for Brit-Am by Rabbi David Feldman:
"The Disagreements of Ephraim and Manasseh" (Hebrew Language),
by Rabbi Aryeh Katz, in "Hemdat Ha-Arets," 6.
Impressions and summaries taken by Yair Daviidy.
Hebrew Original Text in .pdf form
1. Brit-Am Preliminary Note
2. Ephraim Takes Umbrage at Manasseh
3. The Brotherhood of Ephraim and Manasseh
4. Ephraim and Manasseh in the Wilderness
5. Conquering their Destined Inheritances
The extracts below are derived from an article by Rabbi Aryeh Katz. He appears to belong to the National Religious camp of Orthodox Judaism which overlaps with Modern Orthodoxy. They have their own well-developed attitude towards study of the Bible. Their findings sometimes diverge from those of the Ultras-Orthodox. At all events this study is worth reading. Rabbi Aryeh Katz analyses differences between Manasseh and Ephraim. Both Manasseh and Ephraim were sons of Joseph. Manasseh was the firstborn but the pre-eminency was given to Ephraim. According to Katz, the destined task of Joseph was more in the materialistic sphere whereas that of Judah was spiritual. He says that Ephraim was more materialistic than Manasseh. Since the forte of Joseph was a Materialistic one then Ephraim was more suited to the Materialistic Task of Joseph than Manassaeh was . For this reason Ephraim received the pre-eminence.
Other commentators, such as the Natsiv, however say the opposite. They affirm that Manasseh was more materialistic than Ephraim whose relative advantage was a spiritual one. We will return to this matter elsewhere. Meanwhile the explanation of Rabbi Kazt is worth perusing for its own sake.
2. Ephraim Takes Umbrage at Manasseh
The Book of Judges relates two occasions on which Ephraim and Manasseh disagreed.
On both occasions Ephraim threatened Manasseh for meeting an external thereat without consulting them.
The first times was with Gideon (Judges 8:1-3).
The second times was with Yiftach (i.e. "Jephthah," Judges 12:1-6).
What was Ephraim angry about?
Why were the reactions of Manasseh different on the two occasions?
(1. Gideon and the Children of Ephraim.
The Midianites (Judges 6) had been oppressing Israel. They had been crossing the Jordan and attacking settlements west of the Jordan. An angel appeared to Gideon son of Joash the Abiezrite, from the sub-group of Gilead, in the Tribe of Manasseh. Gideon was told to gather Israel together and save his people. The Midanites with their Amalekite allies again invaded. Gideon assembled a force from his Tribe and from other Tribes and went to meet the invaders.
Judges (NKJV) 6:
33 Then all the Midianites and Amalekites, the people of the East, gathered together; and they crossed over and encamped in the Valley of Jezreel. 34 But the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon; then he blew the trumpet, and the Abiezrites gathered behind him. 35 And he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh, who also gathered behind him. He also sent messengers to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali; and they came up to meet them.
Out of all the large number of 32,000 who gathered to him Gideon chose only 300. They launched a surprise attack at night on the enemy who in panic fought among themselves and then scattered and fled (Judges ch. 7). The rest of the initial force of Gideon then joined in the fray and pursued the enemy. Gideon sent a message to Ephraim to seize the fording places on the Jordan River. The Ephraimites did so thus cutting off the enemy escape. They capturing their two main leaders, Oreb (Raven) and Zeeb (Wolf).
The Tribe of Ephraim complained as to why they had not been called to the War from its beginning. Gideon replied that they had nothing to complain and that their own contribution had been greater than that of any body else. This answer placated them (Judges 8:1-2).
Judges (NKJV) 7:
24 Then Gideon sent messengers throughout all the mountains of Ephraim, saying, 'Come down against the Midianites, and seize from them the watering places as far as Beth Barah and the Jordan.' Then all the men of Ephraim gathered together and seized the watering places as far as Beth Barah and the Jordan. 25 And they captured two princes of the Midianites, Oreb and Zeeb. They killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb they killed at the winepress of Zeeb. They pursued Midian and brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon on the other side of the Jordan.
Judges (NKJV) 8:
1 Now the men of Ephraim said to him, 'Why have you done this to us by not calling us when you went to fight with the Midianites?' And they reprimanded him sharply.
2 So he said to them, 'What have I done now in comparison with you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than [b]the vintage of Abiezer? 3 God has delivered into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. And what was I able to do in comparison with you?' Then their anger toward him subsided when he said that.
The Commentary "Metsudat David" explains that Ephraim was angry for not being called to participate from the very beginning.
(2. Jephthah and the Men of Ephraim
A similar incident occurred in the case of Jephthah who was also from Manasseh and had also fought a war without first consulting with Ephraim.
Judges (NKJV) 12:
1 Then the men of Ephraim gathered together, crossed over toward Zaphon, and said to Jephthah, 'Why did you cross over to fight against the people of Ammon, and did not call us to go with you? We will burn your house down on you with fire!'
2 And Jephthah said to them, 'My people and I were in a great struggle with the people of Ammon; and when I called you, you did not deliver me out of their hands. 3 So when I saw that you would not deliver me, I took my life in my hands and crossed over against the people of Ammon; and the Lord delivered them into my hand. Why then have you come up to me this day to fight against me?' 4 Now Jephthah gathered together all the men of Gilead and fought against Ephraim. And the men of Gilead defeated Ephraim, because they said, 'You Gileadites are fugitives of Ephraim among the Ephraimites and among the Manassites.' 5 The Gileadites seized the fords of the Jordan before the Ephraimites arrived. And when any Ephraimite who escaped said, 'Let me cross over,' the men of Gilead would say to him, 'Are you an Ephraimite?' If he said, 'No,' 6 then they would say to him, 'Then say, 'Shibboleth'!' And he would say, 'Sibboleth,' for he could not pronounce it right. Then they would take him and kill him at the fords of the Jordan. There fell at that time forty-two thousand Ephraimites.
Many Commentators agree that Ephraim had an enclave of his own in the Territory of Manasseh east of the Jordan. Nevertheless Manasseh was the main settler in that region and he was the Tribe that suffered most from Midianite incursions. The Ephraimites however related to Manasseh east of the Jordan as inferiors.
Before dealing with the real reason for the umbrage of Ephraim let us survey the Ephraim-Manasseh relationship heretofore.
Genesis (NKJV) 41:
50 And to Joseph were born two sons before the years of famine came, whom Asenath, the daughter of Poti-Pherah priest of On, bore to him. 51 Joseph called the name of the firstbornManasseh: 'For God has made me forget all my toil and all my father's house.' 52 And the name of the second he called Ephraim: 'For God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.'
Despite Manasseh having been born first Jacob, the father of Joseph, transfers the primogeniture to Ephraim:
Genesis (NKJV) 48:
8 Then Israel saw Joseph's sons, and said, 'Who are these?'
9 Joseph said to his father, 'They are my sons, whom God has given me in this place.'
And he said, 'Please bring them to me, and I will bless them.' 10 Now the eyes of Israel were dim with age, so that he could not see. Then Joseph brought them near him, and he kissed them and embraced them. 11 And Israel said to Joseph, 'I had not thought to see your face; but in fact, God has also shown me your offspring!'
12 So Joseph brought them from beside his knees, and he bowed down with his face to the earth. 13 And Joseph took them both, Ephraim with his right hand toward Israel's left hand, and Manasseh with his left hand toward Israel's right hand, and brought them near him. 14 Then Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on Ephraim's head, who was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh's head, guiding his hands knowingly, for Manasseh was the firstborn. 15 And he blessed Joseph, and said:
'God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked,
The God who has fed me all my life long to this day,
16 The Angel who has redeemed me from all evil,
Bless the lads;
Let my name be named upon them,
And the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac;
And let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.'
17 Now when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him; so he took hold of his father's hand to remove it from Ephraim's head to Manasseh's head. 18 And Joseph said to his father, 'Not so, my father, for this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.'
19 But his father refused and said, 'I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great; but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations.'
20 So he blessed them that day, saying, 'By you Israel will bless, saying, 'May God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh!' And thus he set Ephraim before Manasseh.
Abraham Karib points out that transferring of preference from the older son to the younger is a recurring phenomenon in the Book of Genesis: Abel was favored over Cain; Isaac over Ishmael; Jacob over Esau; Joseph over his brothers. This transferring of preference was nearby always accompanied by recriminations and potentially homicidal intentions.
The preference of Ephraim over Manasseh was an exception. No resentment over this on the part of Manasseh is even hinted at. Rabbi Yehudah Dahan says that the lack of resentment was doe to an exceptional quality that characterized the seed of Joseph. The Aspect of Fraternal Loyalty that they were blessed with.
Nevertheless, Rabbi Katz finds indications of resentment in the latter behavior of the Tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim,
4. Ephraim and Manasseh in the Wilderness
When the Israelites came out of Egypt and travelled through the Wilderness the 12 Tribes moved in 4 groups of 3 each. Ephram, Manasseh, and Benjamin were together. This unitary entity was referred to as the Standard of Ephraim (Numbers 2:18).
This may be attributed to relative size of the Tribes. In the First census Ephraim numbered 45,500 compared to 32,200 for Manasseh (Numbers 1:32-33).
In the Second Census however Manasseh was 52,730 compared to 32,500 for Ephraim (Numbers 26:28-30).
In this Second Census Manasseh is indeed mentioned before Ephraim. In the LIsting of the Princes towards the End of the Wilderness sojourn (Numbers 34:23-24), Manasseh again precedes Ephraim. Here too the reason apparently lies in the larger population of Manasseh. Everywhere else, however, Ephraim precedes Manasseh.
Ephraim is recalled before Manasseh:
In the first Listing of the Princes (Numbers 1:10).
At the Dedication of the Tabernacles where each Tribe brought a sacrifice of its own (Numbers 7:48, 54).
At the nameing of the 12 spies sent to spy out the Land of Canaan (Numbers 13: 8, 11).
In the Blessing of moses to Ephraim and Manasseh (Deuteronomy 33: 13-17).
The Land of Ephraim is mentioned before that of Manasseh when Moses is shown the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 34:8).
The Commentary of Nachmanides (Numbers 1:32) discusses this matter.
5. Conquering their Destined Inheritances
Joshua the son of Nun from the Tribe of Ephraim succeeded Moses and led the Israelites in conquering and dividing the Land.
After the Division we are told that Joseph (i.e. Ephraim and Manasseh together) complained that their bequeathment was too small for their needs.
Joshua (NKJV) 17:
14 Then the children of Joseph spoke to Joshua, saying, 'Why have you given us only one lot and one share to inherit, since we are a great people, inasmuch as the LORD has blessed us until now?'
15 So Joshua answered them, 'If you are a great people, then go up to the forest country and clear a place for yourself there in the land of the Perizzites and the giants, since the mountains of Ephraim are too confined for you.'
16 But the children of Joseph said, 'The mountain country is not enough for us; and all the Canaanites who dwell in the land of the valley have chariots of iron, both those who are of Beth Shean and its towns and those who are of the Valley of Jezreel.'
17 And Joshua spoke to the house of Joseph, to Ephraim and Manasseh, saying, 'You are a great people and have great power; you shall not have only one lot, 18 but the mountain country shall be yours. Although it is wooded, you shall cut it down, and its farthest extent shall be yours; for you shall drive out the Canaanites, though they have iron chariots and are strong.'
From the verses we see the complaint being made in the name of "Joseph" i.e. Ephraim and Manasseh together, "to the house of Joseph, to Ephraim and Manasseh." Nevertheless, the Classicial Commentators, Rashi (1040- 1105 CE) and Radak (1160-1235 CE) , opine that the actual ones complaining were from the Tribe of Manasseh.
Rabbi Aryeh Katz suggests that Ephraim complained about too much forest in his land and Manasseh about the need to drive out recalcitrant foreigners.