Parashat Mattot & Mas’ey
Shabbat Mevarekhim Hahodesh
July 16-22, 2017 • 28 Tammuz 5777
Annual (Numbers 30:2-36:13): Etz Hayim p. 941-967; Hertz p. 702-724
Triennial (Numbers 30:2-31:54): Etz Hayim p. 941-949; Hertz p. 702-707
Haftarah (Jeremiah 2:4-28; 3:4): Etz Hayim p. 972-977; Hertz p. 725-729
The Women Who “Fix” Sefer Bemidbar (Numbers)
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, Coordinator, Torah Sparks, the Conservative Yeshiva, Jerusalem
Sefer Bemidbar (the Book of Numbers) ends with a little incident, limiting somewhat the right of women to marry. It seems technical at first but indeed is a most fitting close for this difficult book. Last week (but two Parshas ago) the daughters of Zelophehad claim rights to the land in Canaan that would have been their father’s, to perpetuate his name and legacy. Moses consulted with God ad hoc, and God responded favorably: “Zelophehad’s daughters speak well (ken banot Zelophehad dovrot), give their father’s share to them” (Num 27:1-7). A nice victory for the women, who up to now had no hereditary rights.
But as often happens with corrective legislation, solving one problem generates another. The leaders of Zelophehad’s tribe, Menasheh, complain to Moshe that should Zelophehad’s daughters marry “out of the tribe,” literally, that land will be taken from the tribe of Menasheh to the tribe of the husband/s, distorting the distribution of the land to the tribes to be done by lottery.
There are interesting parallels in the two situations. When Zelophehad’s daughters raised their claim originally, Moshe, flummoxed, brought the question to God for guidance, as he had with the blasphemer, Pesach Sheni (the Second Passover), and the Shabbat stick-gatherer, whom, coincidentally, the Midrash identifies as Zelophehad. In our parashah Moshe “instructs the [people] at the Lord’s bidding (al pi Hashem).” Whether al pi Hashem means a formal consultation, as Moshe had previously had, is not clear, but the result is significant. It is Moshe who speaks here, but the words are familiar: “The Josephites [Menasheh’s leaders] speak well (ken…dovrim).” Moshe recognizes their claim in the same language God had used to recognize that of Zelophehad’s daughters. A compromise is reached – women inheriting the family land may marry only within their tribe. The daughters of Zelophehad “did as the Lord commanded, marrying cousins, thus keeping their father’s land in the tribe of Menasheh” (vs. 10-12).
As in our own time, progress on women’s rights takes time and has its ups and downs. The removal of this limit on the woman’s right to marry and still inherit will come in Rabbinic times and be commemorated in several weeks, on Tu B’Av (the 15th of Av). The Talmud (Taanit 30b) says that on that day, amongst other things, “permission was granted to the tribes to inter-marry.” The removal of tribal barriers to marriage is actually a critical moment in Jewish history. The Sages have pushed the “tipping point” towards “Jewish peoplehood,” not unlike the transition of the United States from a confederation of relatively independent colonies in 1776 to a more centrally governed union in 1789.
It’s fitting that Sefer Bemidbar ends noting that Zelophehad’s daughters “did as the Lord commanded Moses” (36:10). It sounds casual but it is not. The trip through Bemidbar, the book and the desert, has been difficult. It began with 10 chapters of getting the tribes in order and the camp arranged to enter the Land and fulfill the Divine plan, but then everything went wrong. Complaints, lack of faith and even rebellion left the children of Israel in the desert 39 years longer than the original Divine plan. Avivah Zornberg says that the turning point, for good, came with the claim of banot Zelophehad. God recognized their courage and integrity, ken banot Zelophehad dovrot, “they are right.” And they are right here, too, restoring the order in the camp with which the book had begun. They have enabled tikun, correction. Through them the children of Israel, and indeed the Torah, are back on course.
A Vort for Parashat Mattot & Mas’ey
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, Coordinator, Torah Sparks
R’ Asher of Riminov said that Psalm 119:1 “Blessed are those whose ways are blameless, who go according to the law of the LORD” applies to the Num 33:2, “Moses recorded the points of departures of their various journeys, as directed by the Lord.” Travel can be dangerous, R’ Asher said. The temptations when one is away from family, friends and his/her usual environment, often cause lapses in behavior and improper conduct. The children of Israel, he says, continued their journeys, ethically and Jewishly, from the point at which they began, from their homes and their true roots, and remained faithful to the word of God along
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty
This double Parasha that ends the book of Bamidbar contains some topics that form a closure to events that started in earlier Parashot, and others that are looking forward to the entry into the Land of Israel, just across the Jordan River.
1) The Parasha opens with instructions concerning an oath taken (30:2-17). Once an oath is taken, it has to be kept. Why do you think that a person would take an oath to do or to refrain from doing things?
2) Moshe is told (31:1-6) to send an army against the Midianites to take revenge for the Israelites prior to his death. (What did the Midianites do? See 22:4-7, 25:6-18.) Why do you think that Moshe might have been hesitant to do this? Why is it important that he takes care of this matter and not leave it to someone else, possibly at a later date?
3) Among the people killed in the battle, the kings of Midian are listed by name (31:7-8). One more person is listed as well. Who is he? What is ironic about his form of death?
4) The tribes of Reuben and Gad request to remain in trans-Jordan (to the east of the Jordan River) since that land is good for their livestock. They eventually receive permission to do so, under strict conditions (32:20-24). What do they have to do? What part of the tribe will fulfill the condition? What will happen to the rest meanwhile?
5) Chapter 33:1-49 lists the stops that the People of Israel made during their time in the desert. Where did we start, and what is the last stop listed? Why do you think that the Torah took the trouble of listing all the stops?