During the blessings and curses in parashas Ki Tavo, why were Reuven and Zevulun, in particular, sent to Mount Ebal? (They were the only two tribes descended from Rochel and Leah who were sent to that mountain.) Reuven in particular seem like they should have merited to be on the "good" mountain, a.k.a. Mount Grizim.

  • @JoelK Fascinating. Elsewhere, Broyde's chiddush is explained that the tribes were split in that way so that their numbers would be equal. Turns out that's quite an oversimplification.
    – SAH
    Aug 8, 2018 at 20:02
  • @JoelK It seems that one thing they don't explain is whether splitting up Joseph could have accomplished the result a different way.
    – SAH
    Aug 8, 2018 at 20:14
  • @SAH Rabbi Broyde doesn’t suggest that this makes the mountain equal, just that out of the over 600 possibilities, this makes them the most equal. There was a rebuttal in a later edition of Tradition, with a rebuttal to the rebuttal in an even later one, but those focus more on the principle of “Is math necessary to justify a Divine command, or should we just say ‘that’s what G-d wants’ and move on?”
    – DonielF
    Aug 9, 2018 at 3:57
  • Once Levi had to be included on a mountain, Yoseph had to be treated as one United tribe. Yoseph could not have been split. Aug 16, 2018 at 20:02

1 Answer 1


Rav Hirsch explains on verse 12 and 13 that the nation was to be divided in half, and there were 6 sons of Leah and 2 of Rachel (the main wives) and 4 children of Bilha and Zilpah (the maid servants). Thus two of them had to be moved to the other mountain. The question then becomes, Why were Reuven and Zevulun the two that were moved?

Rav Hirsch explains:

When reckoning up the tribes, as in Ex. 1, 2-4, the eight sons of Leah and Rachel are placed together (Joseph is missing there as he was already in Egypt) and then come the four sons of Bilha and Zilpa. Here the nation is to separate into two halves to have the Levites in the middle, so two of the eight have to be transferred to the other four. Now, to avoid any appearance of difference of rank in the two halves the tribes of the eldest and youngest of the sons of Leah, Reuben and Zebulun were to join those of Bilha and Zilpa. Hence the grouping:- Simon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph and Benjamin on the one side, and Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali on the other. But also to avoid the slightest appearance of the קללה being said over the group of the בני השפחות, these were given their position just on Ebal so that the קללה pronouncements were made not to seem to be directed at them but to come from them. They were those that עומדים על הקללה and from the side of the בני אמהות the ברכות were directed at them. (But of course, as explained above both the blessing and curse were said as coming from the whole twelve tribes I.L.)

  • Nice answer but I don't quite understand Rav Hirsch's explanation about "avoiding any appearance of difference of rank" -- there is clearly a difference,which adding Reuven and Zevulun did not do much to fix. As much is acknowledged in this paragraph, in which one team is "bney hashifchos" and the other "bnei imaos."
    – SAH
    Aug 9, 2018 at 7:10
  • I think that Rav Hirsch is saying that since the eldest of all the children and the youngest of Leah's children were moved, then it shows that they have the same status as every one of the other children. It would be like lining up a group in order of height when standing in line shows that other differences do not matter as such even if they have social differences. Aug 9, 2018 at 11:10
  • Hmm, ok, I get it...maybe
    – SAH
    Aug 10, 2018 at 8:14

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