As the forefathers of the 12 tribes, the lives and personalities of each of the sons of Jacob impacted upon the history and behavior of the tribe that was to descend from them.
The descendants of Simeon shared their forefather’s zealous spirit…a character trait that did not always lead them down the right path. The Torah describes one incident, in particular, that highlights this aspect of Simeon’s nature:
While encamped in Shittim, some of the Israelite men were seduced by the women of Moab, who came out specifically to lure them into sin and weaken their camp. Not only did these women act as harlots, but they also enticed the wayward Israelites to make sacrifices to their pagan god, Ba’alpeor. Before commanding Moses to publicly hang the leaders of the sinning Israelites, God struck the people with a plague. When Moses instructed the tribal leaders to “slay every one of your men who are worshiping Ba’alpeor,” Zimri the son of Salu, a prince in the tribe of Simeon, refused to slay his own men. Instead he took Cozbi, a Midianite princess, and committed public harlotry with her in front of Moses. Irate at Zimri’s flagrant disregard for authority, Pinchas, the grandson of Aaron, slew them both (Numbers 25:1-15).
Zimri had good reason to not want to punish those that were sinning…after all, most of the people were his brethren from the tribe of Simeon. In the census taken in Numbers 1, the tribe of Simeon has a population of 59,300. In the census taken in Numbers 26, however, the population of Simeon decreased to 22,200, demonstrating that the tribe of Simeon suffered greater losses than any other, during the plague in chapter 25.
When Jacob blessed his children, he had forewarned that Simeon (and Levi) would be dispersed among Israel (Genesis 49:7), as indeed they were. In Joshua 19, when the newly conquered land of Canaan was divided, Simeon was not given his own portion, but rather resided together with Judah in Judah’s tribal portion.
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