Torah Weekly

For the week ending 22 July 2006 / 26 Tammuz 5766

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.


A Slip Of The Tongue

“They approached him (Moshe) and said, ‘Pens for the flock shall we build here for our livestock, and cities for our small children.” (32:16)

How often it is that we reveal our shortcomings to others, while we ourselves stay blissfully ignorant of our true selves! A slip of the tongue often speaks louder than a ghetto blaster.

The tribes of Reuven and Gad were blessed with large flocks. Recognizing that the terrain on the east bank of the Jordan was ideal for cattle grazing, they petitioned Moshe for this to be their share of the Land.

The Midrash says that their request to Moshe betrayed a materialistic orientation. In the order of their priorities ‘pens for the flock’ preceded ‘cities for our small children.’ Moshe, in his response, subtly corrected their priorities; “Build for yourselves cities for your small children and pens for your flocks…” (32:24)

It seems that Moshe’s subtle rebuke had its effect, for they replied, “Our small children, our wives, our livestock and all our animals will be there in the cities of Gilead.” (32:26)

Nevertheless, this Midrash is difficult to understand. How could it be that Reuven and Gad, two of the tribes, two of the progenitors of the holy nation of Yisrael, could have been more concerned with their possessions than their children?

We should never make the mistake of relating our failings to the perceived failings of our Forefathers. Their smallest sin in our hands would appear like a jewel of mitzvah. On their level, the children of Reuven and Gad were considered overly materialistic, but if they were walking around today they would seem so spiritual as to be scarcely part of the planet.

Catch My Drift?

“They approached him (Moshe) and said, ‘Pens for the flock we shall build here for our livestock, and cities for our small children.” (32:16)

None of us like criticism. None of us likes to hear that we are not the perfect person that we assume ourselves to be. Direct criticism is both unkind and ineffective.

When Moshe wanted to criticize the tribes of Reuven and Gad for their incorrect sense of priorities, he subtly rephrased their petition to hint to their mistake. He reversed the order of their request, “Build for yourselves cities for your small children and pens for your flocks…” (32:24)

Even though their scale of values was inappropriate, Moshe’s criticism was soft and subtle.

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