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Mas'e 33:50–56:

God said to Moses…:

Speak to the Jews, and tell them:

When you[plural] cross the Jordan to Canaan land: you[plural] shall get rid of the land's dwellers from before you[plural]; you[plural] shall destroy all their bowing-floors; you[plural] shall destroy all their formed idols; and you[plural] shall destroy all their altars. You[plural] shall empty out the land and you[plural] shall dwell in it, for I have given you[plural] the land to inherit it. You[plural] shall bequeath the land via a lottery to your[plural] families: to the many, you[plural] shall increase his plot; to the few, you[singular] shall decrease his plot; to wherever the lottery came out for him, it shall be for him; according to the tribes of your[plural] fathers shall you[plural] self-assign plots. And if you[plural] won't get rid of the land's dwellers from before you[plural], then the ones that remain of them will be as nails in your[plural] eyes and as thorns in your[plural] sides, and they will bother you[plural] on the land you[plural] are dwelling on; and as I thought to do to them, I will do to you[plural].

Why is that one singular verb "you[singular] shall decrease" ("תַּמְעִיט") in there?


Note: I've looked in the following resources for an answer to this question, to no avail: Yalkut Shim'oni, Sifre, Midrash Raba, Onkelus, so-called Yonasan ben Uziel, R. Saadya Gaon (Hebrew), Rashi (and also: Amar N'ke, Mizrachi, L'vush, Taz, Gur Arye, Sifse Chachamim), R. Bachya b. Asher, Ramban, Rashbam, ibn Ezra, Chizkuni, Daas Z'kenim, Ralbag, Rosh, Baal Haturim (short and long), Tol'dos Yitzchak (R. Yitzchak Karo), Alshich, Abarbanel, Yaer/Passhegen (on Onkelus), K'le Yakar, S'forno, Or Hachayim, Minchas Shay, Haamek Davar, R. S. R. Hirsch (English), Malbim, Tora T'mima, Tosefes B'racha, Hak'sav V'hakabala, Meshech Chochma, Havanas Hamikra (R. Vulf Heidenheim), Har'chasim L'vik'a, Yen Hatov (on the targumin), Shaare Aharon, Tora Sh'lema, R. Aryeh Kaplan, Emes L'yaakov (R. Kamenetsky). Nor does the version of Tol'dos Aharon that I checked have anything for verse 54. I do note that Onkelus renders it as "you[plural] shall decrease".

  • Inteersting question. I assume that the plural was addressed to Elazar and Yehoshua. I wonder if there is anywhere in book of Yehoshua where only one of them actively decreased someone's portion. Of course , it begs the general discussion f what the terms "increase" and "decrease" mean regarding land that was not in anyone's possession, yet. I.e. you can't increase something that doesn't yet exist. – DanF Aug 9 '16 at 19:40
  • @DanF, interesting idea, but note "Speak to the Jews, and tell them". – msh210 Aug 9 '16 at 20:11
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In his Oznayim Latora, R. Zalman Sorotzkin writes (in my own loose translation):

It starts with plural "you shall increase" and ends with singular "you shall decrease"!? This is the practice of the world: When three have sat in judgement, each of the judges tries to inform the winner that he won the case and can credit him. But there's no one who will inform the loser that he lost the case, so the lot to be the bearer of bad news falls on the chief judge, who has the responsibility to read the verdict, "So-and-so, you win, and, So-and-so, you lose". It was likewise in the division of the land: If they were increasing to someone who deserved an increase, many people could be found to inform him, hence the plural "you shall increase". But if the verdict for someone was to reduce his plot, then "you shall decrease": only the chief judge, Y'hoshua bin Nun, was the one who would inform him of it, by reading the decision.

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