Parashat Matot (מַּטּוֹת)-Hebrew for “tribes” is read during the 3 week period between the 17th of the Hebrew month Tamuz, and the 9th. of Av – a period which commemorates the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash and the beginning of the galut, yearning for the ultimate redemption. Mosheh conveys the laws governing the voiding of vows, hatarat nedarim, to the heads of the tribes of Israel. War is waged against Midian for their role in plotting the moral destruction of Israel. The tribes of Reuven and Gad (and half of the tribe of Manasseh) separated themselves from the rest of Bnei Israel, asking for the lands east of the Jordan as their portion in the Promised Land, thinking there would not be enough pasture land for their cattle. Mosheh agrees on the condition that they first join, and lead, in Israel’s conquest of the lands west of the Jordan.(Numbers 30:2–32:42)
Mas’ei (מַסְעֵי)- Hebrew for “journeys,” Mas’ei is the 10th and last in the Book of Numbers. The parashah discusses the 42 stations of the Israelites’ journeys, from the Exodus to their encampment on the plains of Moav 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, instructions for taking the land of Israel, cities for the Levites and refuge, and the daughters of Zelophehad marry within their own tribe, as a way to keep their land, which they inherit from their father, within the province of Manasseh. (Numbers 33:1–36:1)
Why do we read 2 Torah portions this week?
The lunisolar Hebrew calendar contains up to 55 Saturdays, the exact number varying between 50 in common years and 54 or 55 in leap years. In some leap years (for example, 2014), parashat Masei is read separately. In most years (all coming years until 2035 in the Diaspora, until 2022 in Israel), parashat Masei is combined with the previous parashah, Matot, to help achieve the number of weekly readings needed.
We read parshiot Matot-Masaei in the beginning of the month of Av. Av is the month during which the 1st Beit Hamikdash and 2nd Beit Hamikdash were destroyed. Av has been a month of particular mourning and yearning for the Jewish people, turning to G-d seeking comfort for their sorrows.
Even though we cannot see or touch words, words are important, they leave a mark. We should always be careful with our words, especially when we’re about to make a promise, because we are held responsible for keeping it. It is better to avoid making a promise altogether, if and when you break your promise, you’re committing a sin. How can we avoid that ? It is a good idea when we promise something to add the words “Bli neder” (it is not a promise). As a kid, I remember my dad always saying Bli neder, I always thought it’s an easier path for him not to commit to anything. Now I know better, as I’m using Bli neder as much as I can, and as much as needed.
The Torah teaches us a way of undoing a promise. Going to Beit Din (3 Jewish men court), or go to talmid chacham who knows the laws about promises. At what age promises count? up to one year before a child is Bar / Bat Mitzvah. If a kid, ages 11 and 12, promise anything, their promise is not valid. The Torah teaches us about another way where a father can invalid his Kid’s promise, only on the same day he hears it.
42 stations in 42 years
After the sin with the spies, (which occurred in the second year) G-d punished Mosheh’s generation with forty years of wandering in the desert. Bnei Israel rested in 14 places before they sinned with the spies, with a total of 42 stations, in 42 years, recording their path from the Exodus to their encampment on the plains of Moav across the river from the land of Canaan.
In Numbers 33, we are given a list, naming all the stations of the Jewish people as they tracked from Egypt to Canaan during those 42 years. Each place was named because of some event that happened there. For example in the place called Dafkah the mann fell down from the sky, being worried about food in the barren desert Bnei Israel heart beat (dafak) anxiously about the lack of food. The name of each place reminds us of the wonder G-d performed there. The Midrash gives another reason: these places deserve honorable mention because they accommodated the Jews during their wanderings.
7.The Red sea
8.The wilderness of Sin
12.The wilderness of Sinai
33.The wilderness of Zin, which is Kadesh
41.The mountains of Aavarim
42.The plains of Moav Arey Miklat
2.5 tribes lived east of the Jordan and 9.5 tribes in Eretz Israel. G-d commanded to set aside 3 arey miklat (cities of refuge) on the east side of the Jordan and 3 in Eretz Israel. Arey miklat sheltered murderers only if they had killed by accident. According to our sages there were more than 6 arey miklat if we add the other 42 cities of the leviyim . The Leviyim served in Beit Hamikdash and were the Torah teachers of the people. They had no time to farm, therefore they were not given a portion in Eretz Israel, instead they got 48 cities, which also served as arey miklat. Upon completion of each of the five books of the Torah in the course of the Shabbat morning Torah reading, it is customary for everyone present to shout out loud: “chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek” which means “Let us be strong, let us be strong and let us strengthen others as well.” Upon completion of Sefer Bamidbar (Numbers) may we all go from strength to strength! 8 Mitzvot in parashot Matot-Masei
Matot-Mitzvah Count: 2
1. Not to break oaths or vows Num. 30:3
2. For oaths and vows annulled, there are the laws of annulling vows explicit in the Torah Num. 30:3
Masei-Mitzvah Count: 6
1. To give the Levites cities to inhabit and their surrounding fields Num. 35:2
2. Not to kill the murderer before he stands trial Num. 35:12
3. Not to pity the pursuer Num. 35:12
4. The court must send the accidental murderer to a city of refuge Num. 35:25
5. Not to accept monetary restitution to atone for the murderer Num. 35:31
6. Not to accept monetary restitution instead of being sent to a city of refuge Num. 35:32