Abarbanel on the Parsha

For the week ending 18 July 2015 / 2 Av 5775

Parshat Matot - Masei

by Rabbi Pinchas Kasnett
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At the end of Parshat Masei the Torah discusses five mitzvot which would become relevant after the Jewish People entered the land of Canaan. At this point in time Moshe knows that his death is imminent and that he will not be the one to lead the nation into Canaan. In order to alleviate his disappointment, G-d tells Moshe to communicate these particular mitzvot to the people in order that he should have a connection to them despite the fact that he would not witness their implementation.

If Moshe had entered the Land of Israel he would have had a direct hand in the implementation of each mitzvah. The first mitzvah was the conquest of the Land and the driving out of the enemies of the Jewish People along with their idolatrous practices. Second was the establishment of the exact borders of the country. Third was its division among the tribes. Fourth was the designation of specific cities to the tribe of Levi. Fifth was the designation of cities of refuge, as had already been done on the eastern side of the Jordan River. None of these mitzvot could be performed by one individual alone. Even if Moshe had been permitted to enter the Land, he would have needed to appoint others to assist him. By commanding others to perform tasks that G-d had commanded him, all these mitzvot would have a direct relationship to Moshe. Now also, even though Moshe would not be able to actually enter the Land, he is commanding the Jewish People to perform them. In this way, it is as if Moshe is performing them in absentia in Canaan. This would serve to mollify Moshe.

This also explains why these mitzvot are specifically mentioned at this point. Clearly, they had already been communicated at Sinai. Additionally, most of them had already been referred to earlier in the Torah, as several references had already been made to the inheritance and conquest of the Land, the driving out of the inhabitants and their idolatry, and the division of the Land among the tribes. Here, at the end of Moshe’s life, G-d is giving him the opportunity to experience a virtual relationship with mitzvot that are intimately tied to the Land.

The exact details of the borders that are given to Moshe in this Torah portion could have easily been given to Yehoshua when he would lead the Jewish People into the Land. Similarly, Moshe is told the names of the leaders of each individual tribe who would lead the nation into the Land. This is designed to let Moshe feel as if he was participating in the conquest as well. Since he is also from the tribe of Levi he is given the details of the configuration of the Levite cities that would be established in the Land, to give him a sense of participation in their establishment. Again, as has already been mentioned, the Torah makes it clear that this mitzvah will require the participation of more than a single individual: “G-d spoke to Moshe… saying, ‘Command the Children of Israel that they shall give to the Levites, from the heritage of their possession, cities for dwelling…’ ” (Bamidbar 35:1) Finally, since Moshe had already designated three cities of refuge on the east side of the Jordan, he naturally wanted to designate the three cities on the west side as well. By commanding the Jewish People to designate those three cities it is as if Moshe is designating them through his command to the people.

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