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Home>Jewish Living
Parashiyot Matot-Masei
July 18, 2015 – 2 Av 5775

Annual (Numbers 30:2 – 36:13): Etz Hayim p. 941; Hertz p. 702
Triennial (Numbers 32:1 – 33:49): Etz Hayim p. 949; Hertz p. 707
Haftarah (Jeremiah 2:4 – 28; 3:4): Etz Hayim p. 973; Hertz p. 725

Prepared by Rabbi Adam Rosenbaum
Charleston, SC

A vow made in God's name must be fulfilled; one made by a woman can be cancelled by her husband or father, only on the day in which she makes the vow.

The Israelites rout the Midianites in battle. At Moses's behest, they return to kill the Midianite male children and the women who were not virgins. The fighters and their female captives are purified before entering the Israelite camp, and the spoils of victory are distributed -- half to those who fought, and the other half to the other Israelites, with a special share given to the Levites.

The tribes of Gad and Reuben, along with half of the tribe of Manasseh, request to settle east of the Jordan River so that their cattle would have ample room to roam. Moses allows this, provided that these 2½ tribes will fully assist the Israelite conquest of Canaan before they settle in their requested land.

The years of wandering in the wilderness are outlined, with each Israelite encampment identified. God commands the Israelites to destroy all of Canaan's inhabitants and their deities, and outlines the boundaries of where the Israelites will settle, including special towns in each tribe that are set aside for the Levites.

Other towns are reserved for someone who commits manslaughter to hide from those who would seek out revenge. As long as the one who commits manslaughter remains in the city of refuge, no legal revenge can be taken against him; that protection ends if he leaves the city. Those who murder intentionally are punished with death.

The inheritance rules for the daughters of Zelophehad are clarified further: If they wish to retain their portion of their father's inheritance, they must marry someone from a clan of their father's tribe.

Theme #1: Greener Pastures
The Gadites and the Reubenites came to Moses, Eleazar the priest, and the chieftains of the community, and said, "Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo, and Beon -- the land the Lord has conquered for the community of Israel is cattle country, and your servants have cattle. It would be a favor to us," they continued, "if this land were given to your servants as a holding; do not move us across the Jordan." (Numbers 32:2-5)
Some of the Israelites have the audacity, after 40 years of wandering, to suggest that they not live in the land of their destiny.

Why did the Children of Gad and the Children of Reuben allow Moses to rebuke them bitterly for cowardice before telling him the true motives behind their request for the land east of the River Jordan? It happened that the boy slept late one morning after having sat up all night long studying with a friend. His grandfather, Rabbi Isaac Meir Alter of Ger, in whose home he was raised, came into his room and reprimanded him sternly and at considerable length for having slept so late instead of rising early in the morning to study. Throughout the scolding, the lad stood quietly, listening attentively to the words of his grandfather without even attempting to utter so much as one word in his defense. Later, the other young man, who had been witness to the scene, turned to him in surprise, and asked him, “Why did you not tell your grandfather that we had been up all night studying?” Said the lad: “I didn’t want to stop Grandfather because I wanted to hear more of his words of reproof.” As he spoke these words, the boy opened his Bible and pointed out to his friend this very story from the Book of Numbers … [the tribes] allowed Moses to continue because they would considered it their loss if Moses would have stopped. They were eager to hear more words of moral instruction from him. -- S’fat Emet

Why did [the tribes] not say: “Your servants will do as we have spoken,” but “Your servants will do as my lord commands”? Originally, they had said to Moses, “but we ourselves will be ready armed to go before the Children of Israel”. At that time they had been concerned only with going out to aid their brethren in the conquest of the Promised Land. They did not say then that they would do so for the sake of heaven, in order to do the will of the Lord. But in his answer to them, Moses consistently stressed that their preparation for battle was to be “before the Lord.” … “My Lord” in the statement “as my lord commands” refers to God, implying that the children of Gad and Reuven intended to arm themselves for the sake of heaven, not out of considerations of patriotism and self-interest, but solely for the sake of the honor of heaven and in order to do the will of the Lord. -- Rabbi of Amshinov

Moses is there designated the Servant of God, indeed, he stands there as the prophetic prototype; and he also had the mission of allotting to the tribes of Jacob the various districts which they were eventually to inhabit. -- Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Volume II

Questions for Discussion:
The S’fat Emet believes that the tribes who wish to live east of the Jordan River welcome Moses’s suspicious reaction to their request. Is this because they want to hear Moses’s reproof, or because they expect Moses to be upset and simply allow him to get his frustration out of the way so that he might eventually consider the merit of their request? Are we better able to consider a controversial idea after we air out our concerns first?

The Rabbi of Amshinov points out that the tribes are happy to honor God’s commandments and they refrain from mentioning Moses in their pledge. Is this the best possible outcome? Why would it have been problematic for the tribes to follow Moses’s instructions with little regard to God? Or is this a subtle jab at Moses for being so critical of them? Might this go against the S’fat Emet’s claim that the tribes welcome Moses’s criticism?

Von Rad says that Moses, not God, is the one charged with deciding the eventual living spaces for the tribes in the Promised Land. Is this an argument in line with that of the Rabbi of Amshinov, who contends that the tribes are unwilling to go along with their arrangement for Moses’s sake? Or is this simply a case in which God guides Moses to the best possible solution, with no hard feelings on any side?

Theme #2: In Plain Sight
These were the marches of the Israelites who started out from the land of Egypt, troop by troop, in the charge of Moses and Aaron. Moses recorded the starting point of their various marches as directed by the Lord. Their marches, by starting points, were as follows: They set out from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month. It was on the morrow of the passover offering that the Israelites started out defiantly, in plain view of all the Egyptians. (Numbers 33:1-3)
In recalling their journeys through the wilderness, the text recalls an earlier moment in which the Israelites react with pride.

“[Pharaoh] called to Moses and Aaron in the night and he said, Get up! Get out … !” Moses answered him, We were commanded, “As for you, not one of you shall cross the threshold of your house till morning.” Are we thieves that we should leave by night? We shall only leave “with high hand, before the eyes of all Egypt.” -- Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, The Particulars of Rapture

The places where Moses’ authorship are specified are quite limited. One of these states that Moses wrote out the journeys of the people which Yahweh had directed. The Tanakh, of the Jewish Publication Society, says only that Moses recorded the starting point of the various marches; either translation fits the Hebrew and “stages of the journey” is a good indication of what Moses wrote down. The key is that however one reads the text, the only thing that Moses is said to have recorded is the journey in the wilderness after the Israelites left Egypt. That leaves an immense amount of earlier history -- from Creation to the Exodus -- unaffiliated with him. -- Donald Harman Akenson, Surpassing Wonder

The Passover is celebrated on the fourteenth day of the first month, after sunset; the feast of the Unleavened Bread, which lasts seven days, begins on the fifteenth day and this fifteenth day is the day after the Passover. -- Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel

Questions for Discussion:
Zornberg recounts the importance of the Israelites leaving Egypt during the daytime: rather than appearing to be fleeing prisoners, they would depart with the Egyptians leaving, powerless to do anything about their departure. What does this say about the miracles of the Exodus? Is it imperative that the Israelites feel that, with God’s help, any passageway can be easily traversed?

Akenson tells us that this point in the Torah narrative represents one of only a few times when it notes that Moses actually recorded passages of the Torah himself. Does the spareness of the account that follows, with few details about the places in which the Israelites encamp during their years of wandering, show that Moses is mainly interested in logging data? Or do we get the sense that there are many more details written in scrolls that are now lost to history?

De Vaux draws a distinction between the two different festivals -- Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread -- that are now combined into the holiday of Pesach that we observe today. That Passover begins at night recalls the night-time death of the Egyptian firstborns, which leads to Pharaoh’s command that the Israelites depart; that the Feast of the Unleavened Bread begins in the daytime speaks to Zornberg’s contention that the Israelites walk out of Egypt unencumbered in plain daylight. How do these ideas color our

 
 
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