Parshat Matot-Massei: Love defeats strife

We mentioned in previous commentaries that the tribes of Israel represent traits or qualities that comprise Israel’s identity. These qualities are the positive aspects of all levels of consciousness that are destined to fulfill Israel’s mission of creating a place for the Creator to dwell in the world.

“And Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes, to the children of Israel saying (…)” (Numbers 30:2)


Our intellect, mind, thoughts, emotions, feelings, passions, and instincts (including their own expressions) all depend on the direction in which they are guided. They are the vessels waiting to be filled either with love’s ways and attributes or ego’s fantasies and illusions.


This is why Moses (the highest level of awareness of God and His love) speaks to the highest qualities of our consciousness, represented by the heads of the tribes. These heads know the boundaries between what is permissible and not permissible, and mark them according to our strengths and weaknesses when we face the illusions of the material world.


This is the context of the commandments related to the vows and oaths which are expressed by our speech.


“When a man vows a vow onto the Lord, or swears an oath to bind his soul with a bond, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all comes out of his mouth.” (30:3)


These vows and oaths are clearly dedicated to the service of the Creator, which means to act according to His ways and attributes. When we are safe within the boundaries of our vows we can be redeemed from them.


The text continues with the guiding and redeeming aspects of higher consciousness, represented by the paternal figure and the future husband in reference to the “marriage” of Israel and the Creator. Once we are permanently connected to God’s love we are redeemed from the constraints of materialistic illusions from which we refrain in our quest to be constantly aware of our oneness with Him.

Allegorically, the father is the higher consciousness, the daughter is Israel, and her husband is the Creator. In the context of the narrative, father and husband represent God. We learn from this passage that we have to bear the truth in what we conceive, think, feel, say and do, and be always bound to the truth of love’s ways and attributes.

Our sages explain that this first passage makes perfect sense to precede the war against Midian, because only after we fully commit to positively direct all levels of consciousness we will be able to defeat the strife (midian) that ego wants to make prevail in our consciousness.

In this war all the tribes participate, including the Levites, all led by Pinchas (31:2-12). It was a successful war in which a united Israel defeated the enemy with no Israelite casualties. However, Moses reprimanded the victorious soldiers for not eliminating completely the threats against the higher consciousness achieved under the constraints of their vows, and they later complied by Moses’ orders (31:14-17).


The threats represented by “harmless” Midianite women and male children are some of the veiled reasons that ego has in order to control our consciousness. The next passage tells us about the booty of the war and the purification process of utensils made of metal, wood or clay (31:22-54).

Our sages explain that we can use the utensils and assets of our enemies (negative trends in all levels of consciousness) after we defeat them, but we have to purify them beforehand. We learn from this that negative qualities can be transformed into positive traits after we submit them to the fire of God’s love. Fire, as we have mentioned, is the catalyst that transforms an incomplete or inadequate state into complete and adequate.

Although fire has the power to destroy, when it is related to God’s love it has transforming and transmuting qualities. Love is the catalyst with which we have the power not to destroy but to transform and elevate the negative aspects of consciousness and the material world in order to let love’s ways and attributes rule in it.

The last chapter of Matot (31:1-42) tells us about the request of the tribes of Reuben and Gad to possess the valley east of the Jordan river. The requested area is outside of the promised land with cities that belonged to idolatrous peoples.

Our sages say that Reuben and Gad vowed to destroy the idols, change the names of the cities, and fight in the front lines when their brothers in the other side of the river had to go to war. In other words, they were willing to maintain the unity of Israel in spite of settling outside their land.

Mystic sages teach that when we are fully committed to our awareness of God’s ways we are capable to conquer and settle in other “lands”, meaning that we have the power to transform darkness into light.

This parshah is usually read along with Massei (journeys), the last portion of the book of Numbers. These journeys (33:1-49) are the stages that the children of Israel went through before entering the promised land. We all go through changes in the individual pursuit to bring the light to every dimension of consciousness, and to clear the darkness that conceals the God’s presence and His love, behind ego’s materialistic illusions.

“(…) you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their figured stones, and destroy all their molten images, and demolish all their high places. And you shall drive out the inhabitants of the Land, and dwell therein; because to you have I given the Land to possess it.” (33:52-53)

Massei continues describing the borders of the land and the areas where the tribes will dwell, including 48 cities for the Levites among every tribe, six of them called “cities of refuge”.

“(…) cities of refuge for you, that the man that killed any person through error may flee there. (…) For the children of Israel, and for the stranger, and for the settler among them (…)” (35:11, 15)

Our sages teach that we are good in essence because our souls are connected to God, who is good. They add that one sins when a spirit of folly enters in him, and everyone can rectify his transgressions.

The commandment to have cities of refuge is another manifestation that God’s loving kindness for us to exercise compassion for those who sincerely commit to redirect their lives in His ways. This compassion can’t be extended to those who deliberately murder others, and the Torah commands us to impose the death penalty for them.

As we mentioned in other commentaries, death is the consequence of the choice to separate from the oneness of the Creator. This separation is the result of letting ego’s fantasies and illusions defile our consciousness.

“And you shall not defile the land which you inhabit, in the midst of which I dwell; because I the Lord dwell in the midst of the children of Israel.” (35:34)

Massei ends with a joyous episode.


“(…) the daughters of Zelophehad were married to their father’s brothers’ sons. They were married into the families of the sons of Manasseh, the son of Joseph, and their inheritance remained in the tribe of the family of their father.” (36:12-13)

Let’s comment on the haftarah that complements these two portions (Jeremiah 1:1-19, 2:1-3). The Creator speaks to us with the sweetest words.

“When I had not yet formed you in the belly, I knew you; and before you came forth out of the womb, I sanctified you; a prophet to the nations I have made you.”

The statement is directed to Israel, his oneness with the Creator, and its mission to be the light for the nations.

“To all that I send you, you shall go; and to all that I command you, you shall speak. Be not afraid of them because I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”

These are the words of the greatest love of all that knows us before we are aware of being alive. God’s love blesses us before we reveal His presence in the world. We are His love manifest as we can see Him also manifest in all His creation. We go where He tells us to go and our actions speak what He commands us. He is with us when we exit the realm of materialistic illusions, thus there is nothing to fear.

“(…) but they shall not prevail against you because I am with you, says the Lord, to deliver you.”

God’s love created us. Love we are, love we manifest. Love is our essence. Love is our destiny.

About the Author
Ariel Ben Avraham was born in Colombia (1958) from a family with Sephardic ancestry. He studied Cultural Anthropology in Bogota, and lived twenty years in Chicago working as a radio and television producer and writer. He emigrated to Israel in 2004, and for the last fourteen years has been studying the Chassidic mystic tradition, about which he writes and teaches. Based on his studies, he wrote his first book "God's Love" in 2009. He currently lives in Zefat.
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