For the week ending 15 July 2023 / 26 Tamuz 5783

Parshat - Matot Masei

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
Become a Supporter Library Library



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. The 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 even one casualty among the 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 on the eastern side of the Jordan River and not enter the western 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 the Bnei Yisrael, and that it is akin to the sin of the spies. They assure Moshe that they will first help conquer the Land of 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 the Bnei Yisrael on their 40-year journey from the Exodus to the crossing of the Jordan River into Eretz Yisrael. Hashem commands the Bnei Yisrael to drive out the Canaanites from the Land of Israel and to demolish every vestige of their idolatry. The Bnei Yisrael are warned that if they fail to completely rid the Land 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 Levites, who do not receive a regular portion in the division of the Land. Cities of refuge are to be established so that someone who unintentionally kills another person may flee there. The daughters of Tzlofchad marry members of their own 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 blasting loudspeaker.

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 yourselvescities 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 seems 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, as it appears from this order?

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.

© 1995-2024 Ohr Somayach International - All rights reserved.

Articles may be distributed to another person intact without prior permission. We also encourage you to include this material in other publications, such as synagogue or school newsletters. Hardcopy or electronic. However, we ask that you contact us beforehand for permission in advance at [email protected] and credit for the source as Ohr Somayach Institutions

« Back to Parsha

Ohr Somayach International is a 501c3 not-for-profit corporation (letter on file) EIN 13-3503155 and your donation is tax deductable.