Torah Weekly

For the week ending 26 July 2003 / 26 Tammuz 5763

Parshat Matot - Masei

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Moshe teaches the rules and restrictions governing oaths and vows especially the role of a husband or father in either upholding or annulling a vow. Bnei Yisrael wage war against Midian. They kill the five Midianite kings, all the males and Bilaam. Moshe is upset that women were taken captive. They were catalysts for the immoral behavior of the Jewish People. He rebukes the officers. The spoils of war are counted and apportioned. The commanding officers report to Moshe that there was not one casualty among Bnei Yisrael. They bring an offering that is taken by Moshe and Elazar and placed in the Ohel Mo'ed (Tent of Meeting). The Tribes of Gad and Reuven, who own large quantities of livestock, petition Moshe to allow them to remain east of the Jordan and not enter the Land of Israel. They explain that the land east of the Jordan is quite suitable grazing land for their livestock. Moshe's initial response is that this request will discourage the rest of Bnei Yisrael, and that it is akin to the sin of the spies. They assure Moshe that they will first help conquer Israel, and only then will they go back to their homes on the eastern side of the Jordan River. Moshe grants their request on condition that they uphold their part of the deal.


The Torah names all 42 encampments of Bnei Yisrael on their 40-year journey from the Exodus until the crossing of the Jordan River into Eretz Yisrael. G-d commands Bnei Yisrael to drive out the Canaanites from Eretz Yisrael and to demolish every vestige of their idolatry. Bnei Yisrael are warned that if they fail to rid the land completely of the Canaanites, those who remain will be "pins in their eyes and thorns in their sides." The boundaries of the Land of Israel are defined, and the tribes are commanded to set aside 48 cities for the levi'im, who do not receive a regular portion in the division of the Land. Cities of refuge are to be established: Someone who murders unintentionally may flee there. The daughters of Tzelafchad marry members of their tribe so that their inheritance will stay in their own tribe. Thus ends the Book of Bamidbar/Numbers, the fourth of the Books of The Torah.


Days of Promise

"for to you have I given the Land to possess it" (33:53)

Far be it from me to wax political in a column devoted to the weekly parsha, but I couldnt help being struck by something I saw written by one of the greatest minds to plumb the depths of Torahs mysteries the Bnei Yisasschar.

The Bnei Yissaschar writes that the Torah portions of Matot and Masei whether they are read separately, or, as this year, together always fall in the period of time known as Bein Hametzarim. Bein Hametzarim is the three weeks between the fast of the Seventeenth of Tammuz and the fast of the Ninth of Av.

These three weeks are notorious in Jewish history. Typically, they are a period of tragedy and suffering. It was during this time that the spies were forming their ill-conceived impressions of Eretz Canaan which led to the Jewish Peoples disastrous rejection of the land of Israel on the Ninth of Av. Later, it was these three weeks that saw the destruction of both Holy Temples and the untold suffering that accompanied it.

This is the time of year that saw the destruction of Betar nearly 2,000 years ago by the ancient Romans, in which thousands of Jews were massacred without mercy.

In more recent times, the Jews were expelled from Spain on the 9th of Av in 1492. On the 9th of Av in 1914 the First World War began. And in the early hours of July 23 in 1942 the first train transport of "deportees" left Malkinia, Poland. The train was made up of sixty closed cars, crowded with people Jews from the Warsaw ghetto. The car doors were locked from the outside and the air apertures were barred with barbed wire. That was the 9th of Av 1942, the day the first killings started at Treblinka.

Says the Bnei Yissaschar, at this time of the year when we are at a low ebb spiritually and emotionally, the Torah readings of Matot and Masei come to give us strength. Where are these words of comfort and optimism to be found?

These two parshiot deal with the division of the Land of Israel among the Jewish People. They assure us of G-ds eternal promise to the Jewish People: "To these, you will divide the land."

Even if sometimes it looks that rather than receiving our inheritance we are giving it away, we should never forget G-ds eternal promise that we are the rightful and eventual inheritors of this Holy Land. For ultimately we will see that "To these, you will divide the land."

To "these" and to no other.

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