Parsha Matot-Masei – 5777

Parshat Matot-Masei In-Depth

“Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes (30:2)

This was the procedure with all the laws that Moses taught: first he would teach them to Aaron and the heads of the tribes, and then he would instruct the people, as described in Exodus 34:31–32.

Why are the tribal heads particularly mentioned by the laws of vows? To teach us that an expert Torah scholar has the ability to annul vows like a tribunal of three laymen. (Talmud; Rashi)”

Torah Sparks: Matot-Masei 5777

“Sefer Bemidbar (the Book of Numbers) ends with a little incident, limiting somewhat the right of women to marry. It seems technical at first but indeed is a most fitting close for this difficult book. Last week (but two Parshas ago) the daughters of Zelophehad claim rights to the land in Canaan that would have been their father’s, to perpetuate his name and legacy. Moses consulted with God ad hoc, and God responded favorably: ‘Zelophehad’s daughters speak well (ken banot Zelophehad dovrot), give their father’s share to them’ (Num 27:1-7). A nice victory for the women, who up to now had no hereditary rights.”

Changing the Plan in a Holy Way

“For the final parashah of the Book of Numbers, imagine we are with our ancestors on the east side of the Jordan River. This week is a double portion of Matot/Mas’ei. The episode we will explore begins in Numbers 32 in Matot.

The tribes of Reuben and Gad owned a lot of cattle. They saw the regions of Jazer and Gilad, outside of the Promised Land, were good for cattle. Representatives from Reuben and Gad went to Moses, Eleazer the priest, and the chieftains of the community to ask permission to settle outside of the Promised Land.”

The Importance of Re-reading Torah

“The Book of Numbers is in many ways the least cohesive of the five books of the Torah. Its narrative excursions and legal legacies are occasionally related, but more often discrete.

In Matot and Mas’ey, which conclude the fourth book of the Torah, the narrators/editors of the Torah attempt to pull things together by accounts which summarize the forty years in the desert and anticipate the imminent entrance into the Land of Israel.

However, even before the Torah moves to prescriptions for social and religious regulation within the Land, it presents a narrative of proscription which is chilling. Beginning in Numbers 31, the text tells the story of the Israelite war against the Midianites. So brutal is the account that even Dr. J. H. Hertz, the preeminent apologist for the traditional rendering of the text, states in his well-known commentary that ‘The war against the Midianites presents peculiar difficulties…we cannot satisfactorily meet the various objections that have been raised…’. ”

Haftarah Parshat Matot-Masei

“During Jeremiah’s lifetime, Eretz Yisrael – the land of Israel – rested between the world’s great civilizations. At times, this meant getting trampled by the armies of the competing powers, from the south, Egypt, and from the north, either the Assyrians or the Babylonians. Here and there, however, there were periods of quiet which were no more restful. Jeremiah’s youth and the beginnings of his prophetic mission were in just such a period.

During these times, Israel’s peril was not physical. It was the threat of maintaining its unique religious identity without being swallowed up by the larger cultures which surrounded it. Jeremiah’s prophecy makes it quite clear that the assimilation of the religious ideas of the surrounding cultures was compelling to both his fellow citizens and much of their leadership. He challenges his people’s betrayal of God in favor of the false deities of the neighboring nations. This attraction to what others do and believe should not surprise us. After all, we in modern times know how hard it is to hold on to our distinctive identity in the larger society. We see it in others and perhaps even note in ourselves the pull of the milieu. For most of us, this is a tremendous struggle and we ponder daily how much we can afford to be like our neighbors without losing our authentic Jewish identities.”