Yesterday, we noted the dispute brought by the Gemara in Masekhet Bava Batra (117a) concerning the initial distribution of the Land of Israel. In Parashat Pinchas (26:53), God commands distributing the land “to these” (“la-eileh”), seemingly referring to the generation that was about to enter the land of Israel and of whom a census had just been taken. The implication is that all those who were just counted – every male aged twenty and above – received an equal portion of the land. This is, indeed, the view of Rabbi Yonatan. Rabbi Yoshiya, however, points to God’s command two verses later – “li-shmot matot avotam yinchalu” (“according to the names of the tribes of their fathers they shall inherit”) – as suggesting that the process worked differently. In his view, the land was distributed among the generation that left Egypt, which died in the wilderness, and the current generation that entered the land were treated as their inheritors. And thus according to this view, if a man who left Egypt had three children, and another man had only one child, the first man’s children each received one-third the portion received by the second man’s child.
Making this subject particularly complicated is the Gemara’s discussion of Rabbi Yonatan’s view. Although Rabbi Yonatan maintains that the land was distributed among the “ba’ei ha-aretz” (those who entered the land), he must account for the command to distribute the land “li-shmot matot avotam,” which refers to the parent generation. Rabbi Yonatan therefore explains that when it came to the initial distribution of the Land of Israel, “meitim yoreshim et ha-chayim” – “the dead inherit the living.” Meaning, if there were two brothers who left Egypt, and one had just one son and the other had two sons, such that the three cousins all received full shares, we view those three shares as then being “bequeathed” back to their fathers, who left Egypt and died in the desert. The two brothers who left Egypt theoretically receive the entire territory allotted to their three sons, which is then divided equally among the two brothers. Each brother in turn bequeaths the territory back to his son or sons. In the end, then, the first’s only son receives a full share, and the second’s two sons receive a half-share each. And so although Rabbi Yonatan in principle maintains that the land was distributed among “ba’ei ha-aretz,” in actuality, the land is divided among those who left Egypt.
Of course, this gives rise to the obvious question as to the difference between these two views. It appears that both Rabbi Yoshiya’s view and Rabbi Yonatan’s view yield the same result – that the land in effect was apportioned among those who left Egypt, whose children inherited the parents’ shares.
This question was asked by Tosafot (there in Bava Batra), and they explained that the difference between the two views is seen in the case of two unrelated men who left Egypt, and who did not have brothers. If one had one son and the other had two sons, then, according to Rabbi Yonatan, each of the three cousins received a full share in the land. In this case, each father “received” only what his children were given – since he had no brothers – and he then bequeathed it back to them, so nothing was lost. But if two brothers left Egypt, they “received” all the land apportioned to all their children, and it was then divided equally among them, and thus in this case, indeed, there is no difference between Rabbi Yonatan and Rabbi Yoshiya. It is only in regard to a person who left Egypt without brothers, and had several sons, that these Tanna’im argue. According to Rabbi Yoshiya, the sons divide the father’s portion, whereas according to Rabbi Yonatan, they each receive a full portion.