Weekly Reading Insights

Mattot-Massai 5763


Overview of the Weekly Reading: Mattot/Massei, Shabbat Chazak and Mevarchim
To be read on 26 Tamuz 5763 (July 26)

Torah: Num.30:2-36:13; Haftorah: Jeremiah 2:4-28, 3:4, 4:1-2(2nd of 3 "Haftorahs of Punishment")

Pirkei Avot - Chapter Two

Stats: Mattot , 9th Reading out of 10 in Numbers and 42nd overall, contains 1 positive mitzvot and 1 prohibitive mitzvot. It is written on 190 lines in a parchment Torah scroll, 29nd out of 54 in overall length.

Massei , 10th Reading out of 10 in Numbers and 43th overall, contains 2 positive mitzvot and 4 prohibitive mitzvot. It is written on 189 lines in a parchment Torah scroll, 39nd out of 54 in overall length.

Overview: Matot (Numbers 30:2-32:42), opens with laws concerning making vows and their annulment. Next, G-d commands the Jews to take vengeance on Midian for having deliberately caused them to sin. After killing, capturing, and plundering the Midianites, the Jews are commanded how to purify themselves and the spoil. The spoil is divided according to G-d's command, and a part is dedicated to the Sanctuary. Remarkably (31:48-49) not a single Jew was killed in the battle with Midian. Matot ends with the tribes of Reuven and Gad requesting to live in the conquered lands (that were not originally intended to be part of the Land of Israel). They are granted permission on condition that they only permanently settle this land after the rest of the Jews conquer and divide the Land of Israel on the opposite side of the Jordan River. Massai (Numbers 33:1-36:13) begins listing the 42 different journeys the Jews traversed during their 40 years in the desert. Then, G-d commands that when the Jews will cross the Jordan to conquer the land of Canaan, they must completely drive out the inhabitants and destroy all idolatry. The Land is then to be divided according to tribes and families through a special type of Divinely conducted lottery system. G-d also defines the specific borders of the Land and lists leaders from each tribe who will help parcel out the Land. The Levites are to be given 48 residential cities. These include 6 cities of refuge-havens to which the accidental murderer escapes from the blood avenger, a relative of the killed. Here are detailed many laws concerning intentional and unintentional bloodshed. The parsha ends with the tribe of Menashe complaining that their tribal inheritance would be diminished due to the daughters of Tzelofchad inheriting their father's portion. The sisters are told that if they want to keep the inheritance, they must marry only men from their own tribe ensuring that their sons who inherit the land would also be from the tribe of Menashe. *Upon concluding Massai, we complete the book of Bamidbar (Numbers). Chazak, Chazak, Venitchazek

FROM THE CHASSIDIC REBBES (V:4243-63Mattot/Massei)



"A thousand from a tribe, a thousand from a tribe for all the tribes of Israel shall you send to the army." (31:4)

Included in this army were a thousand from the tribe of Levi, who were normally exempt from going to war. This was a different sort of battle. Unlike the battle for the Land of Israel, which was over a material issue (land), the war against Midian was a spiritual one.
The Midianites had caused the Jews to sin. The war was "to inflict G-d's vengeance against Midian," as Moses stated, to sanctify G-d's name. The tribe of Levi was "set aside to serve G-d and worship Him," and sanctifying His name was within their domain.

(Likutei Sichot)



"These are the journeys of the Children of Israel." [33:1]

The forty-two enumerated journeys represent distinct stages in the life of every individual Jew, from birth to burial.

Baal Shem Tov [translated from Sichat HaShavuah #497]


FROM THE MASTERS OF KABBALA (K:4243-63Mattot/Massei)

Selected with permission and adapted from the three-volume English edition of Shney Luchot HaBrit -- the Sh'lah, as translated, condensed, and annotated by Eliyahu Munk.
Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz (1565-1630), known as the 'Sh'lah' - an acronym of the title, was born in Prague. A scholar of outstanding reputation, he served as chief Rabbi of Cracow, and more famously, of Frankfort (1610-1620). After his first wife passed away, he remarried and moved to Israel in 1621, where he became the first Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Jerusalem. He later moved to Tiberias, where he is buried, near the tomb of the Rambam.

"Moses was angry at the commanders of the army" (31:14). How could Moses be angry at these commanders seeing he had not explicitly commanded them to kill the women? There was no need, however, to issue such an explicit command since common sense should have dictated that the women, who had led the Jewish men astray, were to be the targets of that mission. We find that even Balaam acknowledges guilt when confronted by an angel of whose presence he had not been aware, and he says, "I have sinned though I was unaware" (Num. 22:23). A person who fails to use common sense is culpable.

(adapted from Torat Moshe - the 16th commentary of Rabbi Moshe Alshech of Zefat on the Torah, as translated and condensed in the English version of Eliyahu Munk)

An essay from Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, director of Ascent

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The portions of Matot and Massai are always read during 'the three weeks', a period of intense mourning for the destructions of the holy Temples in Jerusalem, from the fast of the 17th of Tamuz until through the fast of the 9th of Av (read more about these weeks in The Book of Our Heritage by Rabbi Eliyahu KiTov). What is the connection between the two portions and the lessons we can learn to help use this time more advantageously?

The last section of Parshat Massai deals with the 'cities of refuge' (35/11). If a person accidentally killed someone else, he was given the opportunity to escape to the cities of refuge where he was protected from the revenge of the victim's family, until the court could judge and release him from the death sentence. The verse says, "makeh nefesh b'shigagah"- 'a soul that strikes by accident'. The Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches that the word 'nefesh', while being used here to refer to a person, is also one of the words used to describe the G-dly soul. "Makeh nefesh"-'a soul that strikes'-can also be understood as a state of sin which causes a spiritual outpouring of vitality to go from the realm of purity (adam d'kedusha) to the realm of impurity (adam d'klipa) (Likutei Torah Bamidbar13/3). The Torah teaches that a Jewish person's essential nature is to oppose sin, so as not to become separated from G-dliness. Therefore, the third word-b'shigagah-tells us that any sin is really committed by accident. The rectification and atonement for a serious, yet unintentional, misdeed is to exile oneself to a city of refuge.

From this, we understand the connection between the Torah portions, and the Temple's destruction and ensuing exile for which we mourn. Exile is analogous to a city of refuge. Just as the accidental sinner exiled himself to a city of refuge, so too, the Jewish people were exiled because of accidental sins.

And, just as the Torah guarantees that the exiled person will be judged and released, so too, the Almighty will vindicate us and redeem us from this exile with the final and true redemption. This is especially so after so many heartbreaking and difficult years of exile, all of the promises of redemption, and the multitude of positive deeds and t'shuvah performed by the Jewish people during this exile.

The very last portion of the book of Bamidbar is Massai in which are listed all of the journeys of the Jewish people in the desert. The journeys began with the exodus from Mitzrayim-Egypt-a hint to 'bain hamaitzarim', the Hebrew term for the three weeks. The last journey brought them to the Holy Land, a hint to the final redemption.
Upon completing the book of Bamidbar, the congregation announces "Chazak, chazak, v'nitchazek!"-'Be strong, be strong and strengthen ourselves!' G-d is pumping even more energy into us at this critical time when we must be strong even in the face of the apparent exile.

What can we do to bring the redemption? The second Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred, a drastic lack of unity between Jews. Now, we must rectify this behavior by creating true unity between Jews. This must begin with each and every one of us identifying ourselves as an integral part of the Jewish people. May there be no UNAFFILIATED among us. If you do not already, join something or do something to identify yourself as a Jew. Do something nice for another Jewish person-a nice word, some charity, a kindly or favorable thought. DO SOMETHING! Through every Jewish person making an effort, we will shift the balance of the entire world for good, and G-d will have no choice but to bring the final and true redemption now.


Shabbat Shalom, Shaul Leiter

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