A SUMMARY OF MATOS-MASAY, Num. 30:2- 32:42, 33:1-36:13, finishing the Book of Numbers.
MATOS: One's word must be sacred. A vow or oath must be honored, but a father of a young girl, or the husband of a wife, may suspend her vows, if they interfere with household peace. No general conclusions can be drawn as to the male-female relationship, for this law is called a chok, a statute that defies simple reason (Rav J. B. Soloveichik). Must wives obey husbands (cf. Avigayil & Naval)?
Ch. 31: Moshe's given his last assignment- the war against Midian. 12000 Jewish soldiers wiped them out, together with their kings and Bilaam, who apparently led the campaign to cheapen Israel. Moshe insisted that male children and promiscuous females also be killed. When Midianite kids would grow up, they'd join other Midianite tribes out to destroy Israel (Rav Simon- see Judges; cf. the intifada). Captured food utensils, even if new or koshered, had to be also immersed in a mikva. The booty was divided among the public and the army, but the former had to pay 10 times as much Temple tax (cf. taxes on earned and unearned income).
Ch. 32: The tribes of Reuven and Gad, cattlemen, were impressed by the wide open spaces of Transjordan and wanted to settle there. Moshe blew up- not only were they evading Tzahal's impending conquest, but they'd make other Jews do likewise (cf. Israelis in L.A.). Only then did they offer to go in the vanguard of the conquest, after providing for their animals and children. Moshe agreed, but reminded them that their children come before their animals and charged Yehoshua to ensure that they kept their promise. Moshe joined half of the tribe of Manasha to them, possibly as a good influence. They went on to conquer more of Transjordan.
MASAY: After the failure of the Exodus generation to reach Israel, and the sins of the new generation, our portion puts the 40 year trek in perspective; its terse list of all 42 stations and events, a brief overview, will be explored in depth and detail in Deut. We similarly review our fallen state during these 3 weeks of mourning; this is a prelude to deeper introspection in Elul, self conquest on Yom Kippur, and return to God and Jerusalem on Sukkot- the pilgrimage festival (Rav J. B. Soloveichik).
This brief review of Jewish journeys teaches that each event, no matter how bad, has its role in the gradual path to universal redemption, howbeit via a detour (Rav Kook). The 42 place names are really descriptions of Israel's activities- they don't appear elsewhere (Abarbanel). Each stop in their journey is a site of God's kindness, miracles, and salvations (Akadat Yitzchak). The Torah must list all the place names, for he who chances upon a place where a miracle was performed for Israel must bless God there (Tosefet Y'shanim). One's forbidden to return to Egypt by THAT route, which must therefore be clearly deliniated (R. Y. Natanson).
These 42 stops and 7 returns in the spatial dimension are 49 stages of ascent from Egyptian degradation (Sfas Emes; cf. the 49 days counted from Pesach to Shavuot in the temporal dimension). Our portion is a metaphor for the lifelong journey of a limited and narrow bound soul toward spiritual breadth and freedom. Egypt literally means narrow or binding places; Israel is described as a broadening land. It is a very slow and difficult road, and each stage is a departure point for one still higher (The Lubavitcher Rebbe). God tells Moshe to warn Israel that allowing Canaanites to remain, without their abandoning idolatry, will lead to Israel's corruption and destruction.
Ch. 34: God now delineates the borders of the promised land, whose conquest He commanded (today too?). Tribal leaders are appointed to distribute the land.
Ch. 35: 48 Levitical cities are to be set aside, 6 of which are cities of repentance and refuge from the family avenger, only for negligent killers; they stay until the high priest dies. Duly witnessed willful homocide entails the death penalty.
Ch. 36: The tribal heads of Menasha complained to Moshe that they'd lose their land if Tz'lafchad's daughters married out of the tribe. Moshe agreed (but hadn't initiated the subject) and said that daughters who inherit tribal land should marry within their tribe. All 5, hitherto unwed, did so- they may have needed Moshe's blessings to get married!
THE HAFTARA, Jer. 2:4-28, 3:4, stresses the ingratitude of the Jews; they've left God, Who's made them into a unique people, for meaningless substitutes (e.g. Western "culture"); they defile the land of Israel, which was to be a holy model state (e.g. Miss Israel). The priests and Torah scholars lacked the spirit of God, tho punctiliously following all details of the law; their lifeless knowledge didn't open the minds and hearts of the people to God (M. Hirsch- cf. the Besht, R. Kook). The secular leadership and prophets were similarly alienated from God. In the time of evil, Judah will realize the inefficacy of its new gods- cf. hedonism and AIDS. BEHOLD, FROM THEN ON YOU'LL CALL TO ME- "MY FATHER, YOU'RE THE GUIDE OF MY YOUTH" (Jer. 3:4).
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