Torah Weekly

For the week ending 17 July 2004 / 28 Tammuz 5764

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.


The Best Of Reasons

"Avenge the Children of Israel against the Midianim who enticed them into immorality and idol worship. Afterwards you will be gathered to your people" (22:5)

From this verse we learn that G-d made Moshes passing from this world contingent on the destruction of Midian. The commentaries praise Moshe for immediately taking action against Midian rather than postponing the war and extending his life. Its difficult to conceive that Moshe, to whom G-d spoke "face to face", would have had the remotest desire to cling to a life in this world for an extra year or two if he knew that this ran counter to the wishes of the Almighty. So what calculation could Moshe have made to suggest he delay the war and extend his life? What possible motivation could Moshe have had and resisted that earned him this praise?

The answer is to be found in a very similar circumstance in the book of Joshua.

G-d promised Joshua that he would not pass away until he had finished dividing the entire Land of Israel for the Jewish People. Joshua however took his time in completing the division of the Land, as it says "A long time Joshua made war with all those kings" (Joshua 11:18). As Joshua delayed the Children of Israel from settling in the Land that has ten kinds of holiness, so too G-d, measure for measure, hastened Joshuas demise by ten years and he died not at the age of 120 like his teacher Moshe, but at 110. This was the fulfillment of the verse "Many are the thoughts in a mans heart, but G-ds counsel will prevail." (Mishle 9:21)

What were the thoughts in Joshuas heart that caused him to tarry in his task?

Joshua reasoned that it would be beneficial to the Jewish People if he did not make great haste in concluding the battle against the 31 kings of Canaan, because he knew that after his passing the Jewish People would degenerate morally and no longer serve G-d wholeheartedly. Joshua reasoned that while he was still alive he would be able to guide the Jewish People and stop this downward trend.

Moshe is known as "eved Hashem". The word eved means "slave." A slave is someone who ceases to have a separate identity from this master. He is so contained within his master and his masters will, that his will and that of his master are indistinguishable.

Joshua acted for the best of reasons, but when it comes to fulfilling the word of G-d with alacrity "Many are the thoughts in a mans heart, but G-ds counsel will prevail."

  • Source: Bamidbar Rabba 22:5

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