(This Torah Teaching is for Shabbat of July 18th, 2020)
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This week is a double Torah portion covering both Torah Parsha Matot as well as Torah Parsha Massei…
Matot (מַּטּוֹת)— Hebrew for “tribes”, Matot is the fifth word in the parashah. It is the 42nd weekly Torah portion (פָּרָשָׁה, parashah) in the annual cycle of Torah reading and the ninth in the Book of Numbers. It constitutes Numbers 30:2–32:42
Mas’ei (מַסְעֵי) — Hebrew for “journeys,” Mas’ei is the second word in the parashah. It is the 43rd weekly Torah portion (פָּרָשָׁה, parashah) in the annual cycle of Torah reading and the 10th and last in the Book of Numbers. The parashah 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 The parashah constitutes Numbers 33:1–36:13
Torah Parsha Matot-Massei Summary
Moses conveys the laws governing the annulment of vows to the heads of the tribes of Israel. War is waged against Midian for their role in plotting the moral destruction of Israel, and the Torah gives a detailed account of the war spoils and how they were allocated among the people, the warriors, the Levites and the high priest.
The tribes of Reuben and Gad (later joined by half of the tribe of Manasseh) ask for the lands east of the Jordan as their portion in the Promised Land, these being prime pastureland for their cattle. Moses is initially angered by the request, but subsequently agrees on the condition that they first join, and lead, in Israel’s conquest of the lands west of the Jordan.
The forty-two journeys and encampments of Israel are listed, from the Exodus to their encampment on the plains of Moab across the river from the land of Canaan. The boundaries of the Promised Land are given, and cities of refuge are designated as havens and places of exile for inadvertent murderers. The daughters of Tzelofchad marry within their own tribe of Manasseh, so that the estate which they inherit from their father should not pass to the province of another tribe.
This week’s haftorah is the second of a series of three “haftarot of affliction.” These three haftarot are read during the Three Weeks of mourning for Jerusalem, between the fasts of 17 Tammuz and 9 Av.
The prophet Jeremiah transmits G‑d’s message to the Jewish people, in strong tones chastising all the sectors of the people, including the leadership, for their abandonment of G‑d. “What wrong did your forefathers find in Me, that they distanced themselves from Me, and they went after futility and themselves became futile?” He reminds them of the kindness G‑d did for them, taking them out of Egypt and leading them through the desert and settling them in the Promised Land, yet they repaid kindness with disloyalty. “For My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken Me, the spring of living waters, [and furthermore, this was in order] to dig for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that do not hold water.”
G‑d asks them to view the actions of their neighboring nations, the Kittites and Kedarites, “and see whether there was any such thing, whether a nation exchanged a god, although they are not gods. Yet My nation exchanged their glory for what does not avail.”
Jeremiah then goes on to foretell the suffering the Jewish people will suffer at the hands of their enemies, and also their erstwhile allies: “Your evil will chastise you, and you will be rebuked for your backslidings; and you shall know and see that your forsaking the L‑rd your G‑d is evil and bitter.”
The haftorah ends on an encouraging note, assuring the people that if they return to G‑d with sincerity, they will be restored to their full glory.
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Torah Parashah teaching with video and audio and illustrations by Rabbi Isaac. © 2012 Assembly of Called-Out Believers. Use by Permission.