Numbers 30:2 - 36:13
Rabbi Asher Lopatin, president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School (YCT)
The Spiritual Trauma of Taking a Life
How the kosher practice of waiting between meat and dairy reminds us of Moses' discomfort with violence.
From war to terrorism to gun violence, the tragic deaths we see almost daily in the news sadly serve as background for this week’s portion, Matot-Masei. They also serve as a contemporary introduction to the traditional Nine Days of mourning, which start with the beginning of the month of Av. During the month of Av, Jerusalem was burned to the core in 70 CE, and half a century later the Romans created a bloodbath in the city of Beitar, the last stronghold of the rebellious Judean army led by Bar Kochba.
Our double portion this week, Matot-Masei, also talks about war and killing, but, rather than the Romans killing, it is Moses ordering the Israelites to kill, and, painfully, to kill more. In some of the most disturbing verses in the Torah, Moses gets angry with the Israelites for not killing enough of the Midianites, who tried to destroy the Israelites by ensnaring them in idolatry. He shouts: “You have allowed all the women to live! … So now I want you to kill every male child (the male adults were killed already) and every woman…” (Deuteronomy 31:15-17)
BY RABBI REUVEN SPOLTER, Agudas Achim Congregation in West Hartford
A Count Of Love
The census that occurs immediately after the plague for the sin with Midian reassures the Children of Israel that they are still God's partners in the covenant.
After outlining the reward that Pinchas was to receive for his zealotry, God commands Moshe to attack and punish the nation of Midian for enticing the Jewish people to sin and for causing the plague that nearly consumed them. Yet, immediately following this command, the Torah abruptly changes direction, stopping in mid-sentence to begin a new count of the people.
Several questions arise from this strange turn in the text. Why does the Torah end the story of the strife with Midian so abruptly? What is the function of the new census? And why is it connected to (and then disconnected from) the story of Pinchas?
Numbers 22:2 - 25:9
Rabbi Aaron Gruman is rabbi of Congregation Toras Emes
The Place From Which We Pray
Unlike Abraham, Bil'am failed to examine his own prayers and intentions, attributing their failure to his location of prayer.
When it comes to prophecy, our Sages compare Balaam to Moshe Rabbeinu (our teacher): "Never again has there arisen in Israel a prophet like Moshe. But among the Babylonians one did arise. Who is this? Balaam, son of Ba’or."
Regarding character traits, however, our Sages compare Balaam with Avraham Avinu (our father): "A generous eye, a humble spirit and an undemanding soul, these are the characteristics of the disciples of Avraham ; An evil eye, a haughty spirit and a demanding soul, these are the characteristics of the disciples of Balaam."
Where did our sages see evidence of Balaam’s haughty spirit? Under which similar circumstances did Avraham Avinu display a humble temperament?
Numbers 19:1 - 22:1
Rabbi Avraham Fischer, rabbi at Darche Noam Institutions
Facing Long-Standing Foes
Several commentators identify the Canaanites with whom the Israelites fought as the nation of Amalek, continuing the Israelites struggle against their age-old enemy.
Imperceptibly, the Torah has skimmed over nearly 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. The generation of the Exodus has expired, and the generation of the wilderness has taken its place. Two beloved leaders of the Exodus generation–Miriam and Aharon–were taken from them. A new reality crystallizes: this will be the generation that will conquer and settle the Land of Israel, and will establish a society based upon the Torah.
The wilderness generation will fight many wars. Their parents had fought only once against Amalek in Refidim (Exodus 17:8-16). And when they themselves are faced with the threat of war against Edom, they are constrained to withdraw:
And Edom refused to allow Israel to cross his border, and Israel turned away from him (Numbers 20:21).
Rabbi Shimon Felix is the Israel Director of the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel
Korah and his followers masked their quest for personal power and gain as a desire for an egalitarian, democratic society.
This week we read the story of Korah, who is traditionally seen as an arch-villain, the archetypal rebel against Moses and Aaron–the ‘establishment’ of the Jewish people. When we look at it carefully, however, Korah’s complaint against the hegemony of Moses and his brother, who between them and other members of their family run the entire show in the desert–has a compelling ring to it: “You’ve taken too much! For the entire community, all of them, are holy, and God is in their midst. Why should you exalt yourselves over the congregation of God?”