For the week ending 10 July 2021 / 1 Av 5781

Parashat 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. 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.


Sticks and Stones

“…an utterance of her lips…” (30:07)

We are all so delicate. Our egos are so fragile. Our Sages tell us to run away from honor, but we all need self-worth. One of the names for the soul is kavod — honor. As we say each day in our prayers, “So that my soul (kavod) might sing to you and not be silenced…” (Mizmor Shir Chanukat HaBayit). If you take all honor away from someone, they either die or go crazy. This was exactly what those Nazi monsters tried, and in some cases succeeded, to do to our brothers and sisters in the Second World War era. And when someone goes crazy and imagines himself to be someone else, he doesn't just think that he is the local bank manager. Rather, he imagines himself to be the most illustrious person he can think of, someone with the greatest honor. He imagines himself to be Napoleon, or herself to be the Queen of England.

One of the reasons why the Second Beit Hamikdash was destroyed was the incident of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza: A certain man had a friend named Kamtza and an enemy called Bar Kamtza. He once made a party and said to his servant, “Go and bring Kamtza.” The man went and brought Bar Kamtza by mistake. When the man who gave the party found Bar Kamtza there, he said, “What are you doing here? Get out!” Said the other, “Since I am already here, let me stay and I will pay you for whatever I eat and drink.” Said the host, “Absolutely not.” “Then let me give you half the cost of the party.” The host refused. “Then let me pay for the whole party.” Still the host refused, and took him by the hand and threw him out.

Bar Kamtza was prepared to pay an enormous sum to save himself from humiliation. And if Bar Kamtza came to the party, it meant that he assumed that the host wanted to be his friend now — which could only have crushed him further.

No one can second-guess the Master of the World. No one can say this happened because of that. But when tragedies happen — and especially when they are close to home — each one of us must do more than a little soul searching.

This year, 45 holy Jews were crushed to death in Meron on Lag B'Omer. On Erev Shavuot, two more of our holy brethren were crushed to death and over 180 injured in Jerusalem.

As I write this, five people have died and 156 remain missing as a result of the collapse of an apartment building in Miami, Florida. The area is more than a third Jewish, with a large Orthodox population.

Stones can crush, and bodies can crush — but words can crush just as effectively.

It's not just sticks and stones that break bones.

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