The Torah portion of Masei informs us1 of G‑d’s directive that 48 cities be given to the Levites as dwellings places. Among these cities were three Cities of Refuge located on the other side of the Jordan River.

In the previous section of Matos, we read how Moshe was extremely displeased when the tribes of Gad and Reuven asked to receive their portion of the land on the other side of the Jordan. His displeasure stemmed from the fact that it was inappropriate to desire a permanent place of residence outside Eretz Yisrael proper.2

This being so, why did G‑d command that the Levites be given the three Cities of Refuge on the other side of the Jordan? And while it’s true that it was vital that Cities of Refuge be established on both sides of the Jordan,3 this in itself is not sufficient reason to make these “extra-territorial” cities permanent dwelling places for the Levites.

Yes, we could point out that the verse states:4 “Command the Children of Israel that they give the Levites residential cities from their hereditary holdings.” Thus, these cities were not given as an inheritance from G‑d, but because of an obligation placed upon the Jewish people to give a portion of their inheritance to the priestly tribe.

Since the Jews received their portions of land on both sides of the Jordan, it follows that those who lived on the other side were obligated to give a portion to the Levites as well.

In other words, we could say that the Torah did not specify that some of the Levites must live on the other side of the Jordan River. Rather, it obligated all the Jewish people — including those living on the other side of the Jordan — to give some of their land to the Levites.

But why would the Levites, whose primary function was to serve in the Beis HaMikdash, receive cities on the other side of the Jordan?

The answer lies in the fact that not all the Levites served in the Beis HaMikdash at the same time. This is amply demonstrated by the fact that they were allotted 48 cities dispersed throughout Eretz Yisrael, as well as on the other side of the Jordan.5

Moreover, the verse specifically states that the Levites were to be given “open areas around their cities… for their cattle.”6 It was thus entirely possible that among the Levites were individuals with many herds,7 for whom it would be best to live on the other side of the river, where there was ideal pasture land.

But this answer is not entirely satisfactory. Knowing as they did that the main dwelling place of the Jewish people was in Eretz Yisrael proper, why should any Levites want to live on the other side of the Jordan?

In the previous Torah portion of Matos, we find that Moshe gave half the tribe of Menashe a portion on the other side of the Jordan.8 Our Sages point out9 that they did not ask for this land; Moshe presented it to them on his own.

He did so because the first entry of the Jewish people into Israel is connected to their final entry through Moshiach, and Moshe is considered “both the first and the final redeemer.”10 This being so, his giving this portion to Menashe served to foreshadow the future redemption, at which time the boundaries of Eretz Yisrael will be broadened to include the other side of the Jordan as well.

We thus see that taking a portion on the other side of the Jordan can be an entirely positive act, since it hinted at the borders of Eretz Yisrael in times to come.

This is why it was specifically the Levites, whose love for Eretz Yisrael was so great that they did not succumb to the blandishments of the spies (who sought to dissuade the Jews from entering the land), who merited to dwell on the other side of the Jordan. They did so as a forerunner of times to come.

Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XXVIII, pp. 213-218