A Mighty Tribe

Gad was one of the twelve sons of Jacob, making up the twelve tribes of Israel. Gad was the son of Zilpah, one of Jacob's four wives, who was also the mother of Asher.

According to tradition, Gad was born (and died) on the tenth day of this month, Cheshvan (Shemos Rabba 1: 5). He was named Gad by Leah, who had been Zilpah's mistress. "Gad" means Mazal Tav, "good luck" (Rashi). According to another opinion (Ibn Ezra), "Gad" means a "troop" (as Gedud), and this is what Leah meant when she said Ba Gad-for her sons now made up a whole "troop" (Gen. 3 0:11) .

At the time when Jacob and his family of seventy souls came to live in Egypt, Gad was the father of seven sons. When our Patriarch Jacob blessed his sons before his death (Gen. 49:19), he prophesied that the tribe of Gad will provide brave troops who will lead the children of Israel to victory in the conquest of the Promised Land, then return to their inheritance on the eastern side of the Jordan.

Moshe Rabbenu, when blessing the Tribes before his death, likened Gad to a lion. This was an allusion to the mighty warriors of this tribe who will strike down Israel's enemies. He also prophesied that in Gad's portion would be hidden his (Moshe's) grave (Dent. 33:20-21).

It was especially important for the tribe of Gad to be strong, for it received its share of land on the border, and guarded the north-eastern flank of the country.

In the Desert

When the children of Israel were counted in the Desert of Sinai on the first of Iyar, 2449, in the second year after their exodus from Egypt, Gad was the third tribe to be counted (after Reuven and Shimon). The males, from the age of twenty and up, numbered 45,650 (Num. 1:24, 2 5). The prince, or head of the tribe (Nassi), was Elyasaf ben Reuel (1:14; 2:14).

In the arrangement of the camp and order of the march, the tribe of Gad was placed under the Staff of Reuven, together with Shimon, south of the Sanctuary (Num. 2:10, 14). Upon the erection and dedication of the Sanctuary on the first of Nissan (2449), when each of the princes of the tribes brought identical offerings for the dedication of the Mizbe'ach (Altar) on successive days, Elyasaf ben Reuel's turn was on the sixth day (sixth of Nissan).

Among the twelve spies, each representing a tribe, which Moshe Rabbenu sent to spy out the Promised Land, the tribe of Gad was represented by Geuel ben Machi. In this case, Gad is mentioned last (Num. 13:15).

At the second census in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, nearly 40 years after the first census, the number of men of military age (twenty and up) of the tribe of Gad fell short of the first count. Their number was now only 40,500 (Num. 26:18).

After the Eastern or Transjordanic part of Canaan was captured from the Amorites (Num. 21:21-3 5), the tribes of Reuven, Gad, and half of Menasheh desired to settle in that part. These tribes had large herds of cattle and sheep, and when they saw that the lands of Jazer and Gilead, east of Jordan, were very suitable for grazing, they approached Moshe, Elazar, and all the princes and requested that this area be given to them as their share of the Promised Land. This seemed, at first, like another rebellion, and Moshe sternly rebuked the Rejuvenates and Gadites: "Shall your brethren go to war, and you will sit here?" he said, reminding them of what happened to the people when they were swayed by the evil report of the spies. However, the leaders of Reuven and Gad assured him that they were not only willing to accompany the other tribes and help in the conquest of Canaan, but would march in the forefront of the battles. Accepting this offer and making it a firm condition, Moshe granted their request. Then the Reuvenites and Gadites were permitted to build fortified cities in Transjordan for the women and children, and sheepfolds for their flocks, while the fighting men of these tribes would cross the Jordan with the other tribes to lead in the conquest of Canaan. The tribes of Gad and Reuven built a number of cities, while the clan of Machir, the son of Menasheh, went and conquered the land of Gilead from the Amorites dwelling there, and received it as their inheritance (Num. ch. 32).

Under Joshua

The tribes of Gad and Reuven faithfully carried out their pledge. When most of the land of Canaan had been conquered, Joshua confirmed their inheritance in Transjordan, and set the borders of the lands given to these tribes. Gad received the area of Jazer, a substantial part of Gilead, part of the land of Amon and of the kingdoms of Sihon and Og, bordering on the Sea of Kinnereth in the north (Joshua 13 :24-2 8). One of the cities of Gad-Ramoth in Gilead-along with Betzer in the desert, of Reuven, and Golan of Menasheh, formed three Cities of Refuge, with other three Cities of Refuge on the west of Jordan (Joshua 20:8), as they had already been assigned by Moshe Rabbenu (Deut. 4:41-43). Our Sages explain that the rate of involuntary manslaughter was greater among the two and a half tribes than among the other tribes, and therefore there was an equal number of Cities of Refuge, on both sides of the Jordan.

Before the fighting men of Reuven, Gad, and the half-tribe of Menasheh returned to their wives and children, Joshua exhorted them to remain faithful to G‑d and to the Torah and Mitzvoth, with all their heart and soul. Then Joshua blessed them and sent them home (Joshua 22:1-6).

Upon their return, the two and a half tribes erected a replica of the Mizbe'ach near the Jordan, not for the purpose of offering sacrifices on it, but as a symbol and reminder of their unity with the rest of the tribes of Israel for future generations (22:10-34).

In the Time of Saul and David

During the years of Philistine invasions, especially in the early reign of King Saul, before he was able to muster a fighting force to repel the invaders, many Jews crossed the Jordan to seek refuge in the land of Gad and in Gilead (I Sam. 13:7). Some of the mighty warriors of Gad joined David when he was a fugitive from Saul's jealousy yet was fighting his own successful battles against the Philistines. The Gadites were described as "men of valor, men of war fit for the battle, who could handle shield and buckler, whose faces were like the faces of lions and were swift as the barts upon the mountains . . . captains of the host; the least of them commanded a hundred men and the greatest, a thousand" (I Chron. 12:8-14).

The neighboring kingdoms, Aram (Syria) in the north, and Moab in the south, occasionally proved a menace to the two and a half tribes, and to Gad in particular.

During the reign of Omri, King of the Northern Kingdom of the Ten Tribes (3010-3021), the kingdom of Moab in the southeast of the Land of Israel was subdued, and paid an annual tribute to the Kingdom of Israel. However, during the short reign of Omri's grandson Ahaziah (3041-43), the Moabites revolted. Mesha, their king, captured several cities of the tribes of Reuven and Gad, and slaughtered their inhabitants. In the famous Monument of Mesha, which had been unearthed, part of the inscription reads boastfully:

I Mesha, son of Chemosh king of Moab, of Dibon. My father reigned over Moab for thirty years, and I reigned after my father . . . I saw vengeance upon all my enemies. Omri king of Israel afflicted Moab for many years . . . His son succeeded him and said 'I will afflict Moab also' . . . (My god) Chemosh returned Medba in my days. I built Baal-Meon . . . and Kiriathaim . . . Then Chemosh said unto me, 'Go capture Nebo . . .' I marched during the night and fought from dawn to noon and captured it and slew all its seven thousand men and women, young and old, and offered them up to Chemosh . . ."

However, Ahaziah's successor, King Joram, with the aid of King Jehoshaphat of Judah, decisively defeated the Moabites and destroyed every Moabite city, except the fortified capital, where Mesha sought refuge after his defeat.

During the reign of Joram's successor, King Jehu (3055-3083), King Hazael of Syria invaded the territories of Gad, Reuven and Menasheh. For many years the powerful Syrian king cruelly oppressed the Northern Kingdom and harassed them with frequent attacks.

Things were going from bad to worse for the Ten Tribes, including Gad. Finally Tiglath Pileser, King of the mighty Assyrian empire, invaded the territories of the two and a half tribes and annexed them as part of his Syrian province. The two and a half tribes were exiled from their land, which was now settled by Amonites and other peoples. Next he sliced off most of the northern part of the land, taking the inhabitants captive.

The final exile of the Ten Tribes came in 3205 when Shalmaneser, the successor of Tiglath Pileser, captured Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom.

The Kingdom of Judah in the south, with the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, as well as the Kohanim and Leviim of the tribe of Levi, continued to exist for 133 years. In 3338 Jerusalem and the Beth Hamikdosh were destroyed and most of the Jews were led captive into Babylon. They were called Yehudim ("Jews") after the tribe of Yehuda (Judah). Seventy years later, as the saintly Prophets had foretold, Jerusalem and the Beth Hamikdosh were rebuilt by returning exiles from Babylon. Gradually the Jews spread throughout most of the Land of Israel west of the Jordan. The second Beth Hamikdosh existed for 420 years, until the Romans destroyed it together with Jerusalem. Since that time our Jewish people has been dispersed throughout the world, waiting for the appearance of Moshiach, who will gather in the Jewish exiles from all parts of the world into the Holy Land and rebuild the Beth Hamikdosh on its ancient site, as promised by our holy prophets. Indeed, the Prophet Ezekiel describes the boundaries of the lands repossessed by the twelve tribes. He declares that the City of Jerusalem will have twelve gates, each named after a tribe. The Gate of Gad will be one of the three southern gates (Ezekiel 48:27, 28, 34). Then all the twelve tribes of Israel will again be united in their own land, one people, with one Torah, serving the One G‑d.