For the week ending 6 August 2016 / 2 Av 5776

Parshat Matot

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.


Vengeance is Whose?

“And Moshe spoke to the nation saying...” (13:17)

G-d told Moshe (in 13:2), "Take vengeance for the Jewish People against the Midianites”, whereas when Moshe spoke to the people he said, "Take vengeance for G-d against the Midianites.”

Rashi comments: "Even though he (Moshe) heard that his death was dependent on this (the war with Midian), he did it happily and did not delay.”

How did Rashi see that implication in the words of the Torah?

In essence, the sin of the Midianites was both against G-d — for they ensnared the Jewish People in immorality — and also against the Jewish People — for they caused the death of 24,000 people.

Thus G-d said to Moshe, “I can forgo My honor, but I cannot forgive what they did to the Jewish People.” So when G-d spoke to Moshe, He told him to “avenge the vengeance of the Children of Israel.” However, once Moshe heard that after the battle against Moav he would “be gathered to his people”, that his death was contingent on this battle, he was concerned that the Jewish People would say that they also would forgo their honor in order to lengthen Moshe’s life.

Thus Moshe said to them, “Avenge the vengeance of Gd…”, implying that the issue was purely a matter of Gd’s honor, and about which they had no right or ability to “look the other way.”

Therefore it says, “So they were delivered from the Children of Israel, a thousand from each tribe.” Rashi comments on the words “they were delivered” that it was against their will to go, and they went only once Moshe had told them that it was to avenge ‘the vengeance of Gd.”

Thus Rashi understood that Moshe commanded the war happily, for he could have easily delayed the battle by repeating G-d’s words verbatim to the Jewish People: that G-d had commanded them to avenge their own honor, in which case they would have demurred, preferring by far to spare Moshe.

  • Source: Kli Yakar

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