Matot-Masei 5780-2020

“Setting Our Priorities Straight”
(updated and revised from Parashiot Matot-Masei 5761-2001)

In parashat Matot we learn that the tribes of Reuben and Gad, [later joined by half of Menashe], request to remain on the eastern side of the Jordan. Moses is concerned that these tribes will not join in the battle to conquer the Holy Land. Reuben and Gad respond, “We will build pens for our livestock and cities for our small children,” and, of course, they will send troops. Moses, however, corrects them, telling them that concern for their children should come before their livestock. The value of human life is infinite, and must always come first, even in a materialistic generation such as the one in which we live.

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Matot-Masei 5779-2019

“Jeremiah’s Prophecy: An Ancient Message for Contemporary Times”
(Revised and updated from Matot-Masei 5760-2000)

The message of prophet Jeremiah, which is read during the “Three Weeks,” is entirely appropriate for this period of sadness that we experience each year at this time. In addition, there are distinct and powerful parallels between the rebuke that Jeremiah gave to the ancient people, and our contemporary experiences.

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Matot-Masei 5778-2018

“Judaism and Warfare”

The great battle that Israel waged to avenge Midian for leading the men of Israel astray is described in what appears to be a very cruel and heartless manner. Judaism’s attitude toward warfare is nevertheless quite enlightened.

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Matot-Masei 5777-2017

“Vows and Oaths”

As a unique gift from G-d to humankind, the endowment of speech must be fiercely guarded and used correctly. It is perhaps the most powerful tool in the human repository to bring goodness and blessing to the world.

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Matot-Masei 5776-2016

"Rosh Chodesh Av – Remembering the Passing of a Beloved Leader"

Aaron, the High Priest, is the only great figure in the Bible whose exact date of death is known.

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Matot-Masei 5775-2015

“The Noble Calling of the Levites: Serving as an Exemplar for the Jewish People”

How is it possible that the descendants of Levi, the murderous and violent son of Jacob, were chosen to serve as role models for all the tribes of Israel?

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Matot-Masei 5773-2013

“Pinchas Avenges the Midianites”

Why is the zealous Pinchas chosen to lead the people of Israel into battle against the Midianites?

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Matot-Masei 5772-2012

“Words that Hurt, Words that Heal”

In parashat Matot, we are immediately confronted with the exceptional power of words.

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Matot-Masei 5770-2010

"Do Not Pollute the Land...Do Not Defile the Land"

In the second of this week's parashiot, parashat Masei, the Al-mighty warns the people of Israel not to "pollute" or "defile" the land of Israel. Perhaps this warning should also be taken as an admonition that Jews neither excessively flatter Israel nor be overly critical of the land.

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Matot-Masei 5769-2009

"The Lesson of the Journeys"

Parashat Masei contains an account of the 42 locations where the people of Israel encamped during their 40 year journey in the wilderness. While the emphasis on the details seems to be unnecessary, there are many lessons to be garnered from the abundant details.

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0 Comments9 Minutes

Matot-Masei 5767-2007

"Vindicated Before G-d and Before People"

In parashat Matot, when the tribes of Reuben and Gad (and later half of Menashe) decided to stay on the eastern side of the Jordan, Moses suspected rebellion on the part of the people and feared that it may lead to tragedy. When Moses is convinced that the tribes intend to do their share in the battle against the Canaanites, he agrees to let them stay on the eastern side of the Jordan. Moses tells the tribes that if they do their share in the battle, "they will be vindicated before G-d and before Israel." What does this notion of vindication mean?

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Matot-Masei 5766-2006

"Taking a Stand Against the Banality of Evil"

In Parashat Matot, we learn that the Israelite soldiers are instructed to avenge the harlotry of Midianites that resulted in the deaths of 24,000 Israelites in a plague. Despite this exceptional instance, the Jewish soldiers are reluctant to kill the women and children until a Divine command is issued. Why a Divine command? To teach how concerned Judaism is that killing never ever becomes casual or mundane, and to assure that indifference to life never finds a home in the hearts of the Jewish people.

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Matot-Masei 5764-2004

"The Mitzvah of Living in the Land of Israel"

In parashat Masei, G-d commands the Jewish people that when they enter the land of Canaan they are to drive out all the Canaanite inhabitants of the land, for G-d has given the land to the People of Israel to possess it. The ancient tradition holds that there are 613 mitzvot in the Torah. However, there is no definitive listing of those 613 mitzvot. Consequently, the question arises of whether there is an explicit Torah mitzvah to settle in the land of Israel or not. This question was an issue of great dispute between Maimonides and Nachmanides.

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Matot-Masei 5763-2003

"The Massacre of the Midianites: Does Judaism Countenance Genocide?"

In parashat Matot, G-d tells Moses to mobilize the army of Israel and exact vengeance on the Midianites. The rabbis of old are troubled by this call. They explain that "genocide" was never countenanced by Jewish law, but rather that it was necessary to always first sue the enemy for peace and give them opportunity to flee if they refused to live in peace. Nevertheless, Jewish tradition teaches that one should not be overly compassionate, otherwise one will wind up being cruel at a time when compassion is appropriate.

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Matot-Masei 5762-2002

"Does the Torah Allow Its Citizens to Take the Law Into Their Own Hands?"

In parashat Masei, we encounter the astounding and perplexing law known as Eir Miklat, the City of Refuge. It is to the City of Refuge that an accidental killer must run in order to escape the vengeance of the next of kin, who has the right to kill the perpetrator if he catches him before he enters the city. Does Judaism allow its citizens to take the law into their own hands?

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0 Comments10 Minutes

Matot-Masei 5761-2001

"Setting Our Priorities Straight"

In parashat Matot we learn of the tribes of Reuben and Gad (later joined by half of Menashe) who choose to remain on the eastern side of the Jordan. Moses is concerned that they will not join in the battle to conquer the Holy Land. The tribes respond, "We will build pens for our livestock and cities for our small children," and of course they will send troops. Moses, however, corrects them, telling them that their children should come before their livestock. The value of human life is infinite and must always come first, even in a thoroughly materialistic generation such as the one in which we live.

Read More


0 Comments6 Minutes

Matot-Masei 5760-2000

"Jeremiah's Prophecy: An Ancient Message for Contemporary Times"

The message of Jeremiah, which is read during the Three Weeks, is entirely appropriate for this period of sadness that we experience at this time of the year. There are distinct parallels between the rebuke that Jeremiah gave to the ancient people and our contemporary experiences.

Read More


0 Comments11 Minutes