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Torah Dialogue: Mattot-Mass'ei

07/15/2020 04:36:33 PM


Rabbi Edward Davis

SHABBAT SHALOM. Today is 26 Tammuz 5780. We bensch Rosh Chodesh Av, which will be this Wednesday. The Molad (re-appearance of the moon) will be this Monday afternoon at 1:10pm and 15 chalakim (50 seconds). We omit Av HaRachamim.

Numbers 30:2
Compiled by Rabbi Edward Davis

1. The concept of a vow or oath is extremely powerful in Halachah. And it sends a profound message to us all: that which comes out of your mouth is as important as that which goes into your mouth. The laws of Kashrut are powerful and make the observant Jew remarkably unique, but the difficulty of controlling that which comes out of your mouth should be carefully guarded as well. That is why the Chofetz Chaim spent so much time writing about the laws of Lashon HaRa. He realized the difficulty of being an outstanding Jewish person. We used to have a kosher caterer in South Florida whose food was good, tasty, and reliably kosher, but he had a filthy mouth. I kept my distance and did not deal with him as a result of his personal flaws. Look at the list of “Al Cheit” confessions that we recite on Yom Kippur and you will notice how many times our Sages remind us about the sins of the mouth. The vow can be a valuable tool in the discipline of our personalities: thinking before we speak is important and valuable. (RED)

2. “Zeh HaDavar” (39:2) is the expression that Moshe used to explain the laws of vows and oaths: “this is exactly what Hashem has commanded.” Rashi points out that when the prophets quote Hashem, they used the expression “Koh Amar Hashem: this is what Hashem says.” None of the other prophets could quote Hashem exactly because Hashem spoke to them in a dream. Only Moshe could actually quote Hashem exactly. This is because only with Moshe did Hashem actually dictate word for word what to say. This is because only Moshe Rabbeinu was transmitting the Halachot of the Torah. These Mitzvot were eternal and binding throughout time. The prophecies that other prophets received were only for that moment, not for eternity. This is what the Rambam stated in the seventh of his Thirteen Principles of Faith, that Moshe is the greatest prophet, the only one who spoke of what is binding for all time. The Rambam stated that the Torah is not changeable: it is immutable. And this separates Orthodoxy from the other Jewish denominations. (Rav Hershel Schachter)

3. The victory over Midian brought another area of Halachah into focus. Part of the spoils of the war were all the metal utensils that the army brought back with them. Moshe then tells them that they had to kasher these utensils and tovel them in a Mikvah. (31:21-23). But an interesting Halachic phenomenon is raised. When we kasher utensils, no Berachah is recited. But when we tovel utensils in a Mikvah, there is a Berachah that is recited. Why is there a difference? I suggest the following. When we kasher a utensil, the Halachah is interested in removing the taste of any non-kosher food that was absorbed in the utensil. It is an issue of changing the utensil physically. When we immerse a utensil in a Mikvah, we are not changing anything about the utensil physically. We are changing the utensil spiritually. No change is in the utensil itself. We are elevating the status of the utensil, from being owned by a non-Jew to its new status of being owned by a Jew. This spiritual change requires a Berachah. (RED)

4. When the tribes of Gad and Reuven requested that they be allowed to settle the areas east of the Jordan, they were actually raising an interesting Halachic question. Are the areas east of the Jordan really part of Eretz Yisrael, the Biblical land of Israel? Are the produce of the East Bank subject to the laws of Bikkurim, Terumah, Maaser, Shemittah, et al? It also raises the historical question of the future of those tribes. When the enemies would attack Israel, they came from the north and east and would confront the armies and settlements of Gad and Reuven. These tribes were first in war, and the first to experience exile. These lands were the first lands of the Commonwealth of Israel and the first lands to be lost in battle. Having these lands misled Moshe to believe that possibly Hashem had canceled the decree that Moshe would not be allowed in Eretz Yisrael. This is echoed in Moshe’s final request of Hashem in the beginning of Parshat Va’etchanan. Hashem’s refusal can be construed that maybe these lands are not really Eretz Yisrael. (RED)

5. Why did Moshe settle half of the tribe of Menasheh east of the Jordan River when they did not ask for it? Commentators do write on this subject. The Netziv’s suggestion of an answer is definitely worthwhile. The two tribes settled east of the Jordan are risking themselves spiritually. Being a bit isolated from the bulk of Klal Yisrael is spiritually risky since a) they are more distant from the religious center of gravity, from Yerushalayim; and b) they are not strong in religious leadership in their area. Moshe realized that the tribe of Menasheh did have religious leaders who were educated in Halachah. These Menasheh Rabbis would have to make themselves available to teach and to be engaged in the religious life of Gad and Reuven. Furthermore having part of a tribe would mean that these families would still be in close contact with their relatives who live west of the Jordan. This act of Moshe’s will set an important precedent for the future of the Jewish settlement east of the Jordan.

6. In Parshat Mass’ei, the Torah describes in detail the borders of Eretz Yisrael (west of the Jordan River.) The agricultural Halachahs of Eretz Yisrael were applicable to the areas of the east. Once the areas of the west were conquered and occupied, then the Jewish armies are allowed to expand the lands of Israel and extend the Halachahs to the new lands. (Think of the areas added to Israel in the times of King David.) Sam Schachter, of blessed memory, used to claim that Biblical Israel’s borders extend to the Euphrates River. I would explain that that discussion was in the times of the Mashiach! Not now. But Scripture does paint a more glorious picture for our future. We do not possess Biblical Israel today, so we still have a lot to work toward accomplishing what the Torah portrays.

7. The Cities of Refuge are an unusual facet of the Halachic Torah society. Being Torah observant does not mean that there will not be accidental killings. There will be six cities of refuge, three on the areas east of the Jordan, and three west of the Jordan. In the times of the Mashiach, three more cities will be added to facilitate for the expanded lands of Israel. Let us recap what I just wrote. In the days of Mashiach there will still be accidental killings! Then we can add the 42 additional Levitical cities that can also be used as cities of refuge. The difference between a city of refuge and a Levitical city is the following. If you live in a city of refuge and commit an accidental killing, you do not need to run anywhere, since you are already in a city of refuge. But if you are in a Levitical city and commit an accidental killing, you have to run, either to a different Levitical city or to a city of refuge. The accidental killer may bring his family to live with him in his new city and then proceed to get work to support his family in his new surroundings. (RED)


"They went after futility and themselves became futile," that is the shortest, most pertinent, most momentous and most touching epitaph on so many generations, Jewish and non-Jewish, of old and modern times.  The aims, the purposes to which the older generations "your fathers," defecting from God, strove for – the favor of other nations, the cults of idols, the worship of wealth and pleasure in which they wallowed – are in themselves futile.  All external possessions and wealth and working to obtain them have worth and full justification if they are striven for, and used, as means for a pure human life devoted to duty.  But striven for as an end in themselves they are futile, and giving oneself up in the endeavor to obtain them robs life of all true permanent worth.  (Hirsch)

Wed, October 28 2020 10 Cheshvan 5781