People have a naive approach to tribes and subtribes. We use a genealogical model, forgetting that
our religion is not tribal! The model should properly have a dimension of merit! Jews were never tribal
and Judaism certainly isn't.
There are three proofs to seeing merit as well as genealogy in the Jewish Biblical tribal model.
First we have the explicit statement of Jacob, Gn48-05:06, that
And now your two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you to Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine.
And your issue, born to you after them, shall be yours, and shall be called after the name of their brothers in their inheritance.
So we have an explicit statement that 2 grandchildren, Ephraim and Menasseh, will have equal trible status
to the children. That is Reuben, Jacob's son formed one Israeli tribe and similarly, Ephraim, Jacob's grandson,formed
one Israeli tribe.
The verse further says that the rest of Joseph's children belong to the tribes of Ephraim and
Menassheh. Commentators have overlooked this. It is a mistake to think Joseph had only 2 children.
Indeed a famous Rashi says that all Jews had sextuplets (In this email list we have interpreted this to
mean many children, not necessarily exactly six). So where were Joseph's other 4 children! The truth
is we don't know their names but they were certainly there. The real point is that Joseph had
many children, two of which were worthy of being tribes. Here, directly from Jacob's order, we have
the first instance of a tribal system based on genealogy and merit.
A second proof can be found in Judah's children. Gn46-12 states
And the sons of Judah; Er, and Onan, and Shelah, and Perez, and Zarah; but Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan. And the sons of Perez were Hezron and Hamul.
Here we have grandchildren - Hezron, Hamul - taking a subtribe status equal to that of children. This is confirmed
in the census in Numbers, Nu26-19:22, where Hezron, Hamul are given subtribe status.
But Rashi is pedagog par excellence! Rashi does not make his punchline on Ephraim and Menasshe since Jacob
explicitly declared it. He also does not make his punchline by Judah since two of Judah's sons died suggesting
that a replacement must be necessary. Instead Rashi waits for a verse with no excuses. Nu26-36 discussing
the subtribes of Menassheh states
And these are the sons of Shuthelah; from Eran, the family of the Eranites.
Now does anyone really think that in a nation where everyone had sextuplets, Shuthelah had only one son. But the
truth is as Rashi says Shuthelah's other children were censused under Shuthelah. But one of
Shuthelah's children, Eran, was distinguished and merited to form their own subtribe. Here we have the explicit
statement that the assumed equation one child = one (sub)tribe is not true. Rather the accurate principle is
Tribality was based on two dimensions of genealogy and merit. From among the children those that merited became
subtribes. In this way Judaism preserved its non-tribal nature as a religion based on personal merit.
In translating this Rashi I am translating Ravah as distinguished rather than many.
In other words I am not translating Rashi as Eran was a big family so they made him his own tribe (Sort of like
making a big block their own zip code for operational convenience). Rather I am translating Eran
was a distinguished family. This translation is consistent with the other precedents I mentioned above.
If one chooses to translate Ravah as many the above explanation would still hold since it is
based on Jacob's explicit statement, other precedents such as that of Judah, and the reasonable assumption that families
did not have just 1 or 2 children.
I also point out that Judaism uses the merit-genealogy approach with the selection of the High Priest. From
among the High Priest's children we take the one most meritorious for the successor (Not necessarily the oldest).
I believe the ideas enunciated here are of extreme importance to Jewish philosophy and contradict the often
cited tribal approach to Judaim.
Note: Since this rule elucidates how to trace the relationship between children and tribes
we have called it non-verse since, dealing with enumeration, it resembles a spreadsheet method.
Acknowledgement: When the youngest of my sisters was in High School she asked me
If everyone had sextuplets why do we only know 3 of Amram's children- Moses, Aaron, Miriam.
I answered that Perhaps the others were not as famous. I believe the above Rashi places a context
by which to understand the distinction between distinguished and ordinary children. This distinction
affects tribality and apparently other matters also.