The Lottery for Allotment of the Land of Israel
In this week’s Torah portion the Torah speaks briefly about how the Land of Israel is to be divided among the various tribes. Abarbanel explains that the commentators are unsure about the exact nature of this division. Does each tribe receive the same amount of land, determined by Divine lottery and regardless of population? Or is the land divided by the people themselves according to population, with the more populous tribes receiving a larger portion of land? The confusion arises from the verses in this Torah portion.
First it appears that
After challenging the explanations of Rashi and the Ramban, Abarbanel offers his own explanation. He says that there were two stages to the division of the land. First of all, the lottery determined which district within the Land of Israel would be assigned to each tribe. Since the lottery was Divinely-orchestrated, this would eliminate contention among the tribes. Even though some regions were more fertile or productive than others, everyone would have to recognize that the allotted areas were determined Divinely. However, the exact size of each tribe’s portion within that Divinely-allotted region was to be determined by Yehoshua, Elazar HaKohen and princes from each of the twelve tribes. They would take into account how much area within each region was required for each of the tribes, based on population. The lottery also insured that each tribe’s area would be contiguous. Members of any one tribe could never be assigned to a region that was separated from the other members of his tribe.
This interpretation is supported by the verses in Parshat Masei, further on in the Torah. First the Torah states, “…this is the land that you shall divide as an inheritance by lot which