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This week's 10-Minute Torah (July 10, 2021): "Parashat Matot-Masei" 5781

Updated: Jul 5, 2021

Parashat Matot-Masei / פרשת מַּטּוֹת־מַסְעֵי

Read on 10 July 2021 (1 Av 5781).

Parashat Matot-Masei is the 42nd and 43rd weekly Torah portion in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah


Torah Portion:

Parashat Matot discusses laws of vows, the destruction of Midianite towns, and negotiations of the Reubanites and Gadites to settle land outside of Israel. Parashat Masei discusses the stations of the Israelites' journeys, instructions for taking the land of Israel, cities for the Levites and refuge, and the daughters of Zelophehad.

This week is another double portion. Matot starts out discussing vows and oaths. These were usually taken in time of distress or to give thanks. A vow (neder) either consecrates an object to Hashem or prohibits an object (such as a food). An oath imposes someone to either do something or abstain from doing something. If a woman takes either of these, either their father or husband (depending on whether she is married or not) can annul it on the day they hear about it.

Next, Hashem tells Moses to carry out the commandment to wage war with the Midianites. Phinehas is sent with them as the battle priest. Balaam is executed as part of this campaign. Afterward, the soldiers go through a purification ritual, spending seven days outside the camp. The spoils of the war are then divided with one five-hundredth for the priests and one fiftieth for the Levites.

The tribes of Reuban and Gad ask Moses for permission to settle east of the Jordan river because the land was conducive to their cattle grazing. They agree that they will continue to fight with Israel to conquer the rest of the land. Moses grants them their request and also place two of the clans of Manasseh there as well.

Numbers 32:22 has been interpreted by the Rabbis that not only should a person’s conscience by clear, but they should act in a way that doesn’t invite suspicion. The sinner’s consequence will always find them.

Masei reviews the journeys of Israel after they left Egypt, giving an accounting of where they camped over the thirty-nine years in the Wilderness and the march towards the Promised Land in the fortieth year. Each location had a specific experience.

Israel is then commanded to drive out the current inhabitants and destroy their idols. The land is then divided according to lot. The Torah gives landmarks to mark the boundaries, but the sages disagree as to the exact boundaries. Most agree they were the Mediterranean Sea to east of the Jordan River, north to Mount Hor and south to the Brook of Egypt and the Dead Sea.

The Israelites are also told to establish forth-eight cities for the Levites. The cities are intermingled in the land so that they can be accessible to the other tribes. Among those are six cities of refuge for people who unintentionally cause death to escape the blood avenger, a relative who will vindicate the death. The difference between murder and manslaughter is discussed. Determination of which was carried out by due process. The exile of the manslayer ended with the death of the current high priest. A convicted murderer was always condemned to death, life for life.

As a compromise to allowing daughters to inherit land (if there was no son), they had to marry within their tribe. This allowed the land to stay in that tribe. Otherwise, it might pass to another tribe.

Thus closes the book of Numbers.

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