Parsha – Matot

It has been an interesting week. Once again it is Shabbat and I am looking forward to a wonderful Shabboton with my favorite Rabbi the Head Rabbi at Touro university and a wonderful teacher whom I admire.

Parsha Matot, the book of Numbers 30:2-32:42, starts off with the laws of vows. Since the human power of speech is considered Holy by Judaism it is important to Do what you Say and Say what you Do. Sometimes someone takes a vow to do something with good intentions but the task is too much. In these cases there is a way to annul a vow. As it is written:

2. Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the children of Israel, saying: This is the thing the Lord has commanded. 3. If a man makes a vow to the Lord or makes an oath to prohibit himself, he shall not violate his word; according to whatever came out of his mouth, he shall do. 4. If a woman makes a vow to the Lord, or imposes a prohibition [upon herself] while in her father’s house, in her youth, 5. if her father heard her vow or her prohibition which she has prohibited upon herself, yet her father remains silent, all her vows shall stand, and any prohibition that she has imposed upon herself shall stand. 6. But if her father hinders her on the day he hears it, all her vows and her prohibitions that she has imposed upon herself shall not stand. The Lord will forgive her because her father hindered her. 7. But if she is [betrothed] to a man, with her vows upon her or by an utterance of her lips which she has imposed upon herself, 8. and her husband hears it but remains silent on the day he hears it, her vows shall stand, and her prohibition which she has imposed upon herself shall stand. 9. But if her husband hinders her on the day he heard it, he has revoked the vow she had taken upon herself and the utterance which she had imposed upon herself, and the Lord will forgive her. 10. As for the vow of a widow or a divorced woman, whatever she prohibited upon herself will remain upon her. 11. But if she vowed in her husband’s house, or imposed a prohibition upon herself with an oath. 12. and her husband heard and remained silent, and did not hinder her, all her vows shall stand, and every prohibition she imposed upon herself shall stand. 13. If her husband revokes them on the day he hears them, anything issuing from her lips regarding her vows or self imposed prohibitions shall not stand; her husband has revoked them and the Lord shall forgive her. 14. Any vow or any binding oath of self affliction, her husband can either uphold it or revoke it. 15. However, if her husband remained silent from day to day, he has upheld all the vows and prohibitions she has assumed; he has upheld them since he remained silent on the day he heard it. 16. If he revokes them after having heard [them], he shall bear her iniquity. 17. These are the statutes which the Lord commanded Moses concerning a man and his wife, a father and his daughter, in her youth, while in her father’s house.

Rashi comments on the words “He shall bear her iniquity” on line 16 that this is the basis for the understanding that a person causes his fellow to stumble into sin bears his punishment in his place. It seems that a young girls vows are influenced by her father and he is able to uphold them or annul them.

The next aliyah in the Parsha is the story of the attack on the immoral and offensive Midian. It was Midian which sent its daughters, prostitutes all of them, to try to make G-d angry at the Children of Israel by throwing themselves sexually at the Israelite. The story continues:

1. The Lord spoke to Moses saying, 2. “Take revenge for the children of Israel against the Midianites; afterwards you will be gathered to your people.” 3. So Moses spoke to the people, saying, “Arm from among you men for the army, that they can be against Midian, and carry out the revenge of the Lord against Midian. 4. A thousand for each tribe, a thousand for each tribe, from all the tribes of Israel you shall send into the army.” 5. From the thousands of Israel one thousand was given over for each tribe, twelve thousand armed for battle. 6. Moses sent them the thousand from each tribe to the army, them along with Phinehas the son of Eleazar the kohen to the army, with the sacred utensils and the trumpets for sounding in his possession. 7. They mounted an attack against Midian, as the Lord had commanded Moses, and they killed every male. 8. And they killed the Midianite kings upon their slain: Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba, the five kings of Midian, and Balaam the son of Beor they slew with the sword. 9. The children of Israel took the Midianite women and their small children captive, and they plundered all their beasts, livestock, and all their possessions. 10. They set fire to all their residential cities and their castles. 11. They took all the booty and all the plunder of man and beast. 12. They brought the captives, the plunder, and the booty to Moses and to Eleazar the kohen and to the entire community of Israel in the camp, in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho.

Well, this is not too good. Moshe did not command them to only kill the males and to take the women captive. They were supposed to kill them all, especially the women who were the ones who caused Israel to sin. This was the reason Israel mounted the attack on Midian, for retribution for their debauchery. So now Moshe must decide how to handle this situation. It continues:

13. Moses, Eleazar the kohen, and all princes of the community went out to meet them, outside the camp. 14. Moses became angry with the officers of the army, the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, who had returned from the campaign of war. 15. Moses said to them, “Did you allow all the females to live? 16. They were the same ones who were involved with the children of Israel on Balaam’s advice to betray the Lord over the incident of Peor, resulting in a plague among the congregation of the Lord. 17. So now kill every male child, and every woman who can lie intimately with a man you shall kill. 18. And all the young girls who have no experience of intimate relations with a man, you may keep alive for yourselves. 19. And you, encamp outside the camp for seven days; whoever killed a person or who touched a corpse shall cleanse himself on the third and seventh day, both you and your captives. 20. All garments, leather articles, any goat product, and every wooden article shall undergo purification.” 21. Eleazar the kohen said to the soldiers returning from battle, “This is the statute that the Lord commanded Moses. 22. Only the gold, the silver, the copper, the iron, the tin, and the lead 23. whatever is used in fire you shall pass through fire and then it will be clean; it must, however, [also] be cleansed with sprinkling water, and whatever is not used in fire you shall pass through water. 24. You shall wash your garments on the seventh day and become [ritually] clean; afterwards, you may enter the camp.”

We see here that the issue was the sexual immorality of the Midianite women. This is why the women were killed but the young girls were not. Since they had not experienced a sexual relation they were not guilty. Moshe also commands the warriors who have come into contact with dead bodies to ritually purify themselves. They were required to purify their slaves too because as we are children of the covenant so are our captives {those who we are responsible for}.

The Torah goes on to explain how the booty which was plundered from Midian is to be divided. This section contains the idea of a tax being levied on income. So it reads:

25. The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 26. “Take a count of the plunder of the captive people and animals, you, together with Eleazar the kohen and the paternal leaders of the community. 27. And you shall divide the plunder equally between the warriors who went out to battle and the entire congregation. 28. And you shall levy a tax for the Lord from the soldiers who went out to battle: one soul out of every five hundred, from the people, from the cattle, from the donkeys, and from the sheep. 29. You shall take from their half and give it to Eleazar the kohen as a gift to the Lord. 30. From the half belonging to the children of Israel you shall take one part out of fifty of the people, of the cattle, of the donkeys, of the sheep, and of all animals, and you shall give them to the Levites, the guardians of the Mishkan of the Lord.” 31. Moses and Eleazar the kohen did as the Lord had commanded Moses. 32. The plunder, which was in addition to the spoils that the army had spoiled, consisted of six hundred and seventy five thousand sheep. 33. Seventy two thousand cattle. 34. Sixty one thousand donkeys. 35. As for the people, of the women who had no experience of intimate relations with a man, all souls were thirty two thousand. 36. The half that was the portion of those who went out to battle: the number of sheep was three hundred and thirty seven thousand, five hundred. 37. The tax to the Lord from the sheep was six hundred and seventy five. 38. Thirty six thousand cattle, of which the tax to the Lord was seventy two. 39. Thirty thousand and five hundred donkeys, of which the tax to the Lord was sixty one. 40. Sixteen thousand people, of which the tax to the Lord was thirty two people. 41. Moses gave the tax which was a gift to the Lord, to Eleazar the kohen, as the Lord had commanded Moses.

The next aliyah relates that Israel lost no warriors in the battle and as a result the officers of the military requests of Moshe to make an offering to the L-rd. It continues:

48. The officers appointed over the army’s thousands, the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, approached Moses. 49. They said to Moses, “Your servants counted the soldiers who were in our charge, and not one man was missing from us. 50. We therefore wish to bring an offering for the Lord. Any man who found a gold article, be it an anklet, a bracelet, a ring, an earring, or a body ornament, to atone for our souls before the Lord. 51. Moses and Eleazar the kohen took all the gold articles from them. 52. The total of the gift of gold which they dedicated to the Lord [amounted to] sixteen thousand, seven hundred and fifty shekels; this was from the commanders of the thousands and the commanders of the hundreds. 53. The soldiers had seized spoils for themselves. 54. Moses and Eleazar the kohen took the gold from the commanders of the thousands and hundreds and brought it to the Tent of Meeting, as a remembrance for the children of Israel before the Lord.

The rest of the Parsha deals with the tribes of Reuben and Gad. These tribes were agricultural in nature. They raised goats and sheep and they believed that the land of the Jordan across from Israel was ideal for their profession. They ask Moshe if they can stay on the other side of the Jordan instead of going into Israel. Moshe is initially discouraged by the request, seeing it as a means of cowardice and letting down the people of Israel. But in the end he agrees on the condition that they send warriors to help their brethren in the battle. The 6th aliyah reads:

32:1. The descendants of Reuben and Gad had an abundance of livestock very numerous and they saw the land of Jazer and the land of Gilead, and behold, the place was a place for livestock. 2. The descendants of Gad and the descendants of Reuben came, and they spoke to Moses and to Eleazar the kohen and to the princes of the community, saying, 3. “Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, and Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo, and Beon, 4. the land that the Lord struck down before the congregation of Israel is a land for livestock, and your servants have livestock.” 5. They said, “If it pleases you, let this land be given to your servants as a heritage; do not take us across the Jordan.6. [Thereupon,] Moses said to the descendants of Gad and the descendants of Reuben, “Shall your brethren go to war while you stay here? 7. Why do you discourage the children of Israel from crossing over to the land which the Lord has given them? 8. This is what your fathers did when I sent them from Kadesh barnea to explore the Land. 9. They went up to the Valley of Eshkol and saw the land, and they discouraged the children of Israel from crossing into the land which the Lord has given them. 10. The anger of the Lord flared on that day, and He swore, saying, 11. ‘None of the men from the age of twenty years and over who came out of Egypt will see the land that I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, for they did not follow Me wholeheartedly, 12. except for Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizite and Joshua the son of Nun, for they followed the Lord wholeheartedly.’ 13. The anger of the Lord flared against Israel, and He made them wander in the desert for forty years until the entire generation who had done evil in the eyes of the Lord had died out. 14. And behold, you have now risen in place of your fathers as a society of sinful people, to add to the wrathful anger of the Lord against Israel. 15. If you turn away from following Him, He will leave you in the desert again, and you will destroy this entire people.” 16. They approached him and said, “We will build sheepfolds for our livestock here and cities for our children. 17. We will then arm ourselves quickly [and go] before the children of Israel until we have brought them to their place. Our children will reside in the fortified cities on account of the inhabitants of the land. 18. We shall not return to our homes until each of the children of Israel has taken possession of his inheritance. 19. For we will not inherit with them on the other side of the Jordan and beyond, because our inheritance has come to us on the east bank of the Jordan.”

It seems Moshes rebuke gave them strength to join in the battle to take the land which Hashem had promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So Moshe gives him the OK to take the land on the other side of the Jordan. It continues:

20. Moses said to them, “If you do this thing, if you arm yourselves for battle before the Lord, 21. and your armed force crosses the Jordan before the Lord until He has driven out His enemies before Him, 22. and the Land will be conquered before the Lord, afterwards you may return, and you shall be freed [of your obligation] from the Lord and from Israel, and this land will become your heritage before the Lord. 23. But, if you do not do so, behold, you will have sinned against the Lord, and be aware of your sin which will find you. 24. So build yourselves cities for your children and enclosures for your sheep, and what has proceeded from your mouth you shall do.” 25. The descendants of Gad and the descendants of Reuben spoke to Moses, saying, “Your servants will do as my master commands. 26. Our children and our wives, our livestock and our cattle will remain there, in the cities of Gilead. 27. But your servants will cross over all who are armed for combat before the Lord, for the battle, as my master has spoken.” 28. Moses commanded Eleazar the kohen and Joshua the son of Nun and all the paternal heads of the tribes of the children of Israel concerning them. 29. Moses said to them, “If the descendants of Gad and Reuben cross the Jordan with you before the Lord, and the Land is conquered before you, you shall give them the land of Gilead as a heritage. 30. But if they do not cross over with you armed [for battle], they shall receive a possession among you in the land of Canaan.” 31. The descendants of Gad and the descendants of Reuben answered, saying, “We shall do as the Lord has spoken to your servants. 32. We shall cross over in an armed force before the Lord to the land of Canaan, and then we shall have the possession of our inheritance on this side of the Jordan.” 33. Moses gave the descendants of Gad and the descendants of Reuben and half the tribe of Manasseh the son of Joseph, the kingdom of Sihon, king of the Amorites, and the kingdom of Og, king of Bashan the land together with its cities within borders, the cities of the surrounding territory. 34. The descendants of Gad built Dibon, Ataroth, and Aroer. 35. And Atroth Shophan, Jazer, and Jogbehah. 36. And Beth Nimrah and Beth Haran, fortified cities and sheepfolds. 37. The descendants of Reuben built Heshbon, Elealeh, and Kirjathaim. 38. And Nebo and Baal Meon, their names having been changed, and Sibmah. 39. The children of Machir the son of Manasseh went to Gilead and conquered it, driving out the Amorites who were there. 40. Moses gave Gilead to Machir the son of Manasseh, and he settled in it. 41. Jair the son of Manasseh went and conquered their hamlets, and called them the hamlets of Jair. 42. Nobah went and conquered Kenath and its surrounding villages, and called it Nobah, after his name.

So Moshe divides the land between the tribes and wraps up this weeks Parsha. It is interesting to note that line 38 refers to two Emorite cities which were named after pagan deities. Reuben renamed these cities to remove the memory of these accursed idols.

This was an eventful Parsha… I hope all my readers have a wonderful and spiritually uplifted Shabbat…

Shabbat Shalom,


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