We have been recently exploring conditional betrothal which leads, today, to a general discussion of conditional statements. The mishnah on today’s daf opens:
Rabbi Meir says: Any condition that is not like the condition with the Gadites and the Reubenites is not a valid one.
Recall that Gad and Reuben are two of the sons of Jacob, and their descendants collectively make up two of the 12 tribes. In Numbers we learn that the Reubenites and Gadites own ample cattle and identify the lands of Jazer and Gilead as ideal for grazing. But these lands are not in the promised land of Israel, on the far side of the Jordan River. So these two tribes request that they be allowed to stay on on the east bank while the rest of the tribes move into the promised land. Moses agrees — conditionally:
Moses said to them, “If every soldier among the Gadites and the Reubenites crosses the Jordan with you to do battle, at the instance of the Lord, and the land is subdued before you, you shall give them the land of Gilead as a holding. But if the soldiers do not cross over with, they shall receive holdings among you in the land of Canaan.” (Numbers 32:29–30)
The Talmud is attuned to the language Moses uses here, which is sometimes termed a double conditional: If the Gadites and Reubenites contribute to the battles to conquer the land, they will inherit their requested land; but if they do not join the other tribes in battle, they will not receive their requested land and move into Canaan, on the other side of the Jordan. Moses clarifies not only what will happen if they fulfill their responsibilities but also elucidates precisely what will happen if they do not.
Rabbi Hanina ben Gamliel says: It was necessary to state the matter, as otherwise (i.e., if the verse had not specified both sides of the condition), it might have meant that they will not inherit even in the land of Canaan.
Rabbi Hanina ben Gamliel suggests that the compound condition was necessary in this particular instance, because otherwise we might think that if they failed to supply the troops the Gadites and Reubenites would receive no land whatsoever. Unlike Rabbi Meir, he does not read the text in Numbers as a statement about how conditions should be made in other circumstances.
But according to Rabbi Meir, this is a necessary feature of conditions that are made between parties in order for a condition to be valid. You must say clearly what will happen if X is fulfilled and what will happen if X is not fulfilled.
The double condition comes into play in the moment when the Israelites begin to explore the implications of settling apart from one another — of not living together for the first time. This may have raised great anxiety among the people: If some of the tribes settle in the land of Israel, while others settle outside, how will the people hold together as a unified entity? Of course, in the rabbis’ time, the Jewish population was already significantly spread across the globe, and it is only more so today.
There is no simple solution to this age-old problem of keeping the Jewish people connected when they live apart, but Rabbi Meir (through Moses) offers a template: When we communicate with each other, we should aim for honesty and precision with our language. The degradation of dialogue is a common complaint in our modern world. But openness and clarity can move us toward a world of interconnection and responsibility, especially among Jews.