You can find the rest of the parsha text on Chabad.org at Massei.
~ Rabbi Shefa Gold’s Torah Journeys ~
NUMBERS 33:1 – 36:13
Massei outlines the forty-two stops along the way on our wilderness journey.
SOMETIMES I THINK OF MY LIFE as one long interesting journey. Massei reminds me that every journey takes place in stages and each stage carries its own distinct blessing to be unwrapped and savored, its own messages to be gleaned and digested. The word Massei really refers to the “setting forths” we do. As each stage of a journey comes to an end, we pull up our stakes and move on, initiating a new adventure. At each stage of the journey I become aware of my own transformation. I’m never the same adventurer who set forth the last time.
Forty-two stops or stages along the Israelites path are enumerated and named. Each stopping point on the journey holds a blessing for us. The Ba’al Shem Tov reminds us, “Whatever happened to the people as a whole will happen to each individual. All the forty-two journeys of the children of Israel will occur to each person between the time he is born and the time he dies.”
We recount the itinerary of our wanderings in order to receive the lessons and blessings of each stage of our journey. As we become aware of the significance of each stage, we can receive its benefit. It is our awareness and appreciation that transform our story into a blessing.
THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE
IT IS IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER at each stage of our journey that we will encounter some obstacle or resistance. However annoying, difficult or devastating that obstacle is, its presence can call forth a particular power that lies hidden within us. The way in which the obstacle compels us to transform demonstrates the exact transformation our soul needs for its growth. In fact, the potentials that lie buried within us often require an appropriate challenge in order to be released and manifested.
It is more than a strange coincidence that the secret, unpronounceable name of God that can dissolve the obstacles in our lives has forty-two letters. Perhaps each letter represents one stage in our journey and the magic power of this name lies in its potential to embrace all the stages at once.
RABBI NECHUNIAH BEN HAKANAH, who lived in the second half of the first century C.E., wrote a special prayer with forty-two words, the initials of which comprise the forty-two letter Divine name. The first line is: “Ana B’choach Gedulat Y’mincha Tatir Tz’rurah” (Please, with the strength of your right hand, untie our tangles). Rabbi Nechuniah wanted to be able to pronounce the unpronounceable, to call out and call forth the reality of the whole in order to deal with the stubborn tangles that keep us stuck.
We move through our obstacles by knowing them in the context of our life’s journey. The spiritual challenge of Massei lies in seeing the big picture, even as we are stopped along the way by seemingly insurmountable resistances or difficulties. Those “impossible” challenges that we face represent the work of our soul’s growth. Understanding that the obstacles are the point of the journey may help us to manage the pain or despair that we may experience as we encounter these inevitable difficulties along the way.
AT THE TIME of my divorce years ago, the pain of my broken heart seemed unbearable. My tears filled up every crevice of my being and overflowed until I could barely imagine ever feeling happy again. At some point, a small wise voice spoke inside me and said, “In a year you’ll feel just fine, maybe even better than fine.” I believed that voice, embraced its promise and had a moment’s vision of myself a year from then, filled with joy. Then I saw the year ahead during which I knew I would be doing the hard work of grieving and healing from not only this divorce, but from every loss I had ever suffered. “Can’t I just skip this year?” I whined.
We learn from Massei that every stage is essential to the journey. There are no short-cuts; no way to skip over the challenges. Even what seem like mistakes or dead-ends or wrong turns along the way can provide us with the necessary raw ingredients for wisdom. Those ingredients must be prepared with self-compassion and unwavering attention, cooked with patience and humility, and served up with a sense of humor.
1 From Psalm 23
For Guideline for Practice please click on link to website.
These are the journeys of the children of Israel…(33:1)
The forty-two “stations” from Egypt to the Promised Land are replayed in the life of every individual Jew, as his soul journeys from its descent to earth at birth to its return to its Source.
(Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov)
These are the journeys of the children of Israel going out of the land of Mitzrayim (Egypt)… (33:1)
It would seem that there was only one journey which took the Jewish nation out of Egypt–their journey from Raamses to Sukkot. The other “journeys” listed in our Parshah were between points outside of the geographical borders of Egypt. Why, then, does the Torah speak of “the journeys” — in the plural — “of the children of Israel going out of the land of Mitzrayim”?
Mitzrayim, the Hebrew word for “Egypt,” means “borders” and “narrows.” On the spiritual level, the journey from Egypt is a journey from the boundaries that limit us–an Exodus from the narrow straits of habit, convention and ego to the “good broad land” of the infinite potential of our G-dly soul.
And the journey from Mitzrayim is a perpetual one: what is expansive and uninhibited by yesterdays standards, is narrow and confining in light of the added wisdom and new possibilities of todays station. Thus, each of lifes “journeys” is an Exodus from the land of Mitzrayim: having transcended yesterdays limitations, we must again journey from the Mitzrayim that our present norm represents relative to our newly-uncovered potential.
(Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi)
And they journeyed from… and they camped at… (33:1-49)
Our chapter opens, “These are the journeys of the children of Israel.” However, it then proceeds to recount not the journeys but the forty-two encampments at which they stopped during their sojourn in the Sinai Desert!
Yet these encampments were not ends unto themselves–only way-stations and stepping stones to advance the nation of Israel in their goal of attaining the Promised Land. So the stops themselves are referred to as “journeys”.
The same is true of the journey of life. Pauses, interruptions and setbacks are an inadvertent part of a person’s sojourn on earth. But when everything a person does is toward the goal of attaining the “Holy Land” — the sanctification of the material world — these, too, are “journeys”. Ultimately, they are shown to have been the true motors of progression, each an impetus to the realization of one’s mission and purpose in life.
(From the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe)
And Moses wrote down their goings out to their journeys, by the command of G-d (33:2)
The journey from Egypt to the Holy Land was a one-way journey: the Israelites did not physically revisit their encampments in the desert. What, then, is the significance of the “return journey” made by the king and his child in the above-cited parable by the Midrash?
As the people of Israel traveled through the desert, they experienced their forty-two encampments as interruptions, even setbacks, in their progress towards the Promised Land. But on the eve of their entry into the Holy Land, they were able to “return”, to look back upon these encampments and re-experience them in a different light: not as a people venturing from slavery toward an unknowable goal through a fearful wilderness, but as a people who, having attained their goal, could now appreciate how each way-station in their journey had forged a particular part of their identity and had contributed to what and where they were today.
The great desert we each must cross in the journey of life is the product of what the Kabbalists call the tzimtzum (“constriction”): G-ds creation of a so-called vacuum within His all-pervading immanence, a bubble of darkness within His infinite light that allows man the choice between good and evil. For in order that our acts of goodness should be meaningful, there must also be the choice of evil.
Three conditions are necessary to create the possibility of free choice in the heart of man:
a) There must be a withdrawal of the divine light and the creation of the “vacuum” that allows the existence of evil.
b) It is not enough that evil exist; it must also be equipped with the illusion of worthiness and desirability. If evil were readily perceived for what it is — the suppression of light and life — there would be no true choice.
c) On the other hand, an absolute vacuum would shut out all possibility for choosing life. Thus the tzimtzum must be mitigated with a glow, however faint, of the Divine light that empowers us to overcome darkness and death.
Therein lies the deeper significance of the three stations in the Midrashs metaphor — “Here we slept,” “Here we were cooled,” “Here your head hurt.”
“Here we slept” refers to the withdrawal of the Divine vitality in order to create the tzimtzum.
“Here we were cooled” refers to the mitigation of the tzimtzum with a faint glow of divine light.
And “Here your head hurt” is a reference to the many contortions that cloud our minds and confuse our priorities, leading to a distorted vision of reality and misguided decisions.
All these, however, serve a single purpose: to advance us along the journey of life and to imbue the journey with meaning and worth. Today we can only reiterate to ourselves our knowledge of this truth; on the “return journey,” we shall revisit these stations and see and experience their true import.
(From the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe)
To flee there anyone who slays a soul unawares (35:15)
Every transgression of the Divine will is a subtle form of “inadvertent murder”: “Murder” because it disrupts the flow of vitality from the Source of Life to the soul of the transgressor; “inadvertent” because a sinful deed is always contrary to the true will of the transgressor, who has been mislead by the distortions imposed by his animal self.
For the one who spiritually “slays a soul unawares” there have been set aside six spiritual “cities of refuge.” These are (as per the Sefer HaChinuch cited above) the “six constant mitzvot” that apply to every Jew, at all times, and in all circumstances, so that they are readily accessible to one who seeks refuge from his faults and failings, whomever he might be and wherever the desire to rectify his life might strike him.
But a haven is of little use if it is inaccessible or its location is unknown. As is the case with the physical cities of refuge, it is the communitys responsibility to “straighten the roads… to repair them and broaden them… remove all impediments and obstacles” and post signs at all crossroads and pointing the way to the haven of Torah.
To one of the family of her father’s tribe shall she be a wife (36:8)
Said Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel: “There never were in Israel greater days of joy than the fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur.
I can understand Yom Kippur, because it is a day of forgiveness and pardon and on it the second Tablets of the Law were given; but what happened on the fifteenth of Av? Rav Judah said in the name of Shmuel: It is the day on which permission was granted to the tribes to intermarry. For it is written: “This is the thing which G-d has commanded concerning the daughters of Tzelafchad….”–meaning this ordinance shall remain in effect for this generation only.
(Talmud, Taanit 30b)
From Melissa Carpenter
Masei: Drive Out the Old
Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: When you are crossing the Jordan into the land of Canaan, you must dispossess everyone dwelling in the land before you, and you must destroy all their carved symbols, and you must destroy all the images of their cast-metal idols, and you must demolish all their high worship-platforms. You must take possession of the land and you must dwell in it, because I have given the land to you to take possession of it. (Numbers 33:51-53; Masei)
reshet = to take possession of (land, a city, a house), to inherit; to dispossess, to displace someone from his property, to drive out
This instruction from God to Moses appears in the last Torah portion of the book of Numbers/Bemidbar, when the Israelites are camped on the bank of the Jordan River, ready to cross over into the “promised land”—where, unfortunately, other people are already living. If I take God’s instruction literally, I feel sorry for the Canaanites, who have lived there for generations. Surely some of them are righteous people, even if they follow a different religion, yet God wants all of them to be thrown out of the houses that they built and driven off the farms that they planted.
However, the divine instruction above could also be taken as an allegory for how any human beings who have reached the age of reflection can change their own inner lives, their own inner lands.
When you are crossing the Jordan into the land of Canaan—or, when you are crossing the dangerous boundary between your old, habitual, reflexive beliefs and a new way of thinking—
you must dispossess everyone dwelling in the land before you— you must uproot all the established mental habits you have lived by in the land of your mind—
and you must destroy all their carved symbols—and you must recognize the symbols and myths you learned from your parents and teachers, and question them even though they were carved into your childhood thinking—
and you must destroy all the images of their cast-metal idols—and you must discover which of your beliefs are idols set up by your parents or your society, and use the flame of your emotions to melt them down inside you—
and you must demolish all their high worship-platforms—and you must stop assuming that these myths and idols are of high worth, and cease to worship them.
You must take possession of the land and you must dwell in it—You must take conscious responsibility for your own mind, especially your own mental habits and assumptions, and you must live consciously—
because I have given the land to you to take possession of it—because God has given you a mind capable of self-reflection and conscious choice.
God’s instructions about dispossessing the Canaanites continue:
But if you do not dispossess those dwelling in the land before you, then those whom you allow to remain behind will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides; they will hamper you on the land in which you dwell. And it will be that what I intended to do to them, I will do to you. (Numbers 33:55-56; Masei)
But if you do not dispossess those dwelling in the land before you—But if you do not clear out the mental habits you acquired from other people—
then those whom you allow to remain behind will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides—then your old mental habits will blind you to new opportunities, and prick you with continual pangs of regret;
they will hamper you on the land in which you dwell—your unexamined reactions will make your life more difficult and constricted.
And it will be that what I intended to do to them, I will do to you—And if you do not change your thinking habits yourself, then disasters will drive you out of your mind.
UNIVERSAL TORAH: MAS’EI
By Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum
Torah Reading: MAS’EI: Numbers 33:1-36:13.
Already in MATOS when Moses castigated the Sons of Reuven and Gad with being
like the Ten Spies, the theme of Moses’ reproof enters the Torah, and it
continues in MAS’EY and in the book of Deuteronomy. After the events of the
forty years wandering, which we have studied in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers,
the time has come to begin to review the lessons and reduce them to their
MAS’EY begins with a review of the forty years wandering. On the surface, the
list of encampments and journeyings seems prosaic. However, the second Targum on
the Torah, that of Rabbi Yonasan ben Uziel, disciple of Hillel, fills in much of
the moral significance of the different staging posts in those difficult years,
showing that the list itself is a form of reproof. It teaches us that there are
times when we must look back, review and draw conclusions and lessons from the
past. This is particularly necessary when we stand on the brink of new
challenges, as in the case of the Children of Israel, who stood poised to
conquer the Land.
Included in the account of the wanderings is a reference to the death of Aaron
the High Priest, specifying the date of his ascent to the mountain to die — the
first day of the fifth month, which is the month of Av. This is a reminder to us
that the present year is beginning to draw to a close, with only two months to
go before the Day of Judgment, Rosh HaShanah, the New Year. As we proceed in the
period of Repentance (the Three Weeks, followed by Elul and Tishri) we should
take time to review our lives and reflect on where we are trying to go. This way
we will be prepared for the challenges of the coming year — the Conquest of the
Posted by Aryae
Rabbi Zvi Miller
What is the significance of the Torah listing the names of the remote places that the People of Israel passed on their 40 year trek through the desert?
One might think that we survived in the desert by staying close to cities, where we could purchase food supplies and water. However, the locations show that the route took us right through the heart of the blazing desert. There was no Hilton, supermarket, or even farmland for miles and miles.
The only one way to survive in the desert with no food, water, or protection is by a constant miracle! For forty years, HaShem provided us with ample food, water, clothing, and shade. He revealed that every second of life – and all the provisions at our disposal – are gifts from HaShem.
While HaShem often “hides Himself” through nature; the sprouting of vegetation from the earth is no less miraculous than the manna that came from Heaven! Once we learn the secret that HaShem loves the People of Israel like His beloved child, we know for certain that He will take care of us and our needs.
Happiness is clarity of HaShem’s loving-kindness for each person. The more we focus on His love and appreciate His constant, incomparable kindness, the happier we will be. A child instinctively feels exuberant around his parents, because he knows how much they love him.
So too, when we are aware that HaShem is our Creator, we will be exuberant. Every second He surrounds us with love, care, and kindness; granting us health, life, understanding, air, tasty food, family and friends, a soul, the wisdom of the holy Torah, etc.
The only thing He asks of us is to reflect on His love until we shine with happiness and joy.
[Based on the Rambam and Ohr RaShaz]
From Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan
I highly recommend studying birth parshiot as a means to understanding one’s path in this life. I have learned a great deal from the commentaries on Mattos Masei, my birth parsha. Most of us have both inspiring and difficult sections in our birth parshiot. I am certainly no exception. The way I process the difficult parts is that they serve to highlight areas that need healing within ourselves. They can also point to ways we can bring healing to the world around us .
I was born on the 6th Aliyah, one half hour from the 7th Aliyah. So I pay special attention to these sections within Massei. My commentary for the Torah Circle Blog concerns the 7th Aliyah.
7th Aliyah – the Daughters of Tzelofchad part 2
I have always been drawn to the women in the Torah. It is fascinating to me that the Daughters of Tzelofchad were from the tribe of Menashe. Most commentators say that in Bereshit, the conflict among brothers over the question of the birthright ended with Menashe and Ephriam, Joseph’s sons. In most of the stories, the older brother was passed over in favor of the younger brother. Much ill will followed even to the point of violence.
At Jacob’s death bed, Ephriam received the birthright blessing over Menashe, the first born. Both accepted this judgment. But was there really healing?
It seems to me that the Daughters, by claiming their inheritance in the parsha Pinchas, finally settled the birthright karma. The parsha, Massei, develops this further. There were no brothers so Moses told them that they needed to marry within their tribe so that the inheritance would stay within the tribe. While I admire the Daughters’ holy chutzpah, and would benefit from their example, it needed to be tempered by the needs of the community – holy balance. With this settled, at the end of Bamidbar, the Israelites were ready to cross the Jordan river and enter the Promised Land.
From Rabbi Yolles 5770
In the second of this week’s portions we learn about Israel’s journey from exodus to reaching the Holy Land on shore of the Yarden (Jordan River). There are a total of 42 stations in this 40 year trek. The Kabbalah teaches us that this corresponds to the 42 initials of the words in ANA B’EKOACH, recited amongst other places before Friday night Lechad Dodi. Ana B’ekoach is construed on the ingathering of dispersed holy sparks; it follows that the journey in the terrifying empty wasteland of the dessert was for the purpose of the holy sparks drifting aimlessly without filling their purpose, fulfill Ha’shems space in creation with holiness.
Our journey in life that – everyone’s of us – consists of this 42 “stations” wherever Ha’shem brings us everyplace that we find ourselves in His greater plan for Tikkun olam. We have a purpose to fulfill, to fill Our station with their kiddusha of the needs of Nitzotot Hakedoshim that we bring home from wasted disbursal to their ultimate purpose.
A word of Torah studied, a word of tefillah (prayer) uttered, a word of comfort to the distressed, a mitzvah fulfilled, fills our world with holiness of the spark until they make the world fit the holiness of the rebuilt beit hamikdash for which we long so intensely in these weeks.
May HaShem give the most holy Shabbat of light and delight with all its berachot to all and in every way.
With Sincere love,
From Rabbi Simon Jacobson
Matos Massei: The 42 Journeys of Your Life
Is your life made up of a many disjointed pieces, or is there a continuum to it all? Are your choices being made by other people’s expectations of you and the circumstances around you, or do you feel that there is an underlying script beneath the surface of your life? Are you being torn in different directions by all types of forces demanding your time and attention, or do you determine what direction your life takes? Is your life a journey from one point to the next, leading to a destination, or is it a bunch of disconnected fragments?
Do you ever feel that your life is like a roller-coaster? With unexpected twists and turns, highs and lows? Sometimes you feel all motivated and enthusiastic; a moment later the inspiration dissipates. What is going on? Why can’t we find an equilibrium?
This week’s Torah portion – which closes book four of the Bible — is called Massei, Journeys. This chapter reviews in detail the forty two journeys that the Jewish people traveled on, from the moment they left Egypt, until they arrived (40 years later) to the Promised Land.
The Baal Shem Tov teaches that these forty-two journeys in the wilderness reflect the forty-two psycho-spiritual phases that each person experiences throughout life. “These are the journeys of the Israelites, who had left Egypt” on the way to the Promised Land: All the 42 journeys are about freeing ourselves and transcending the constraints and limitations (Mitzrayim) of our material existence which conceals the Divine, subduing and sublimating the harsh “wilderness” of selfish existence, and discovering the “Promised Land” – a life of harmony between body and soul.
This idea – that your life is a journey consisting of 42 steps – can literally transform your entire life. By examining the cycles of your life you can discover the 44 different phases you have experienced and will experience. Imagine being able to trace the steps of your life and connect the otherwise random dots – seeing how they all are part of one journey leading you to your promised land?
The definition of a journey is: Movement with direction. Like the captain of a ship, each of us needs a compass that allows us to navigate the twists and turns, the ups and downs, the swells and storms of our lives. By studying the 42 journeys in this week’s chapter, you can learn how to align your life, with all its ups and downs, to the compass of a higher rhythm, and create a strategy that rides and taps into these rhythms. It allows you to discover how to synchronize your life journeys to the Divine coordinates that “lead the footsteps of man.” It’s like having an inner compass that senses life’s internal tempo, being able to pace your outer movements by your inner rhythms.
When we feel that every detail of our lives – both the highs and the lows, both the trivial and the important experience – are part of a larger journey, it infuses life with a new exhilarating feeling; you wake up each day knowing that you are on another leg of your journey and that you can determine the trajectory of your own destiny.
Here is a psycho-spiritual application of all our 42 life journeys: http://www.meaningfullife.com/spiritual/soul/42_Journeys.php.
From Melissa Carpenter
July 24, 2011
This week’s Torah portion, Masey (“Journeys”), calls for the new land of Israel to be divided up into territories by tribe, with a special arrangement for Levites, who will not own land. Forty-eight cities must be set aside for the Levites, and six of these will be designated “cities of refuge”.
Speak to the children of Israel, and you shall say to them: When you cross the Jordan to the land of Canaan, you shall select cities for yourselves. They will become cities of refuge for you, and a killer who strikes down a living soul inadvertently shall flee there. The cities shall be for you a refuge from a compensator, so the killer will not die until he has stood before the community for the legal ruling. (Numbers/Bemidbar 35:10-12)
go-eil = a compensator; a redeemer or avenger; a person who is responsible for redressing the situation when a man’s life or land is taken
In the Torah, a compensator is usually a male relative of a male victim. When an Israelite man becomes a slave, a compensator redeems him, freeing him by paying his owner. When a man dies without heirs, his nearest male relative serves as a compensator by making the widow pregnant, so her child will inherit the deceased man’s property and his “name” will continue. When a man is killed, a “compensator of the blood” (go-eil hadam) is responsible for correcting the situation by killing the killer.
Legally, execution by the “compensator of the blood” is is not revenge, but rather a way to uphold the dignity and importance of the victim. If no male relative is available to serve as the compensator of the blood, the judges appoint one.
(What if the victim of enslavement or murder is a woman? The Torah does give a few examples of redemption and retribution for female victims, but there is no compensator in these cases. The Torah reflects the culture of the time and place where it was written down, so it has different laws for men than for women.)
The Torah provides for six cities of refuge where a killer can flee to be safe from an over-eager compensator until the community where the killing occurred passes sentence on the case. If the verdict is murder, the compensator executes the death penalty, even if he has to enter a city of refuge to do it. But what if the verdict is accidental manslaughter?
If in an instant, without enmity, he knocked someone down, or threw down upon him any implement, without premeditated malice … then the community shall rescue the killer from the hand of the compensator of the blood, and the community shall return him to his city of refuge where he had fled. And he shall stay in it until the death of the high priest … and after the death of the high priest the killer may return to his land-holding. (Numbers 35:22, 25, 28)
Thus a man who accidentally causes another’s death receives a different sentence. He must leave his own land, and live in a city of refuge, where the compensator is not allowed to harm him. The killer must not leave his city of refuge until the high priest of Israel dies.
Traditional commentary offers three reasons for this restriction. One is that it preserves the killer’s life by protecting him from being attacked by a vengeful compensator. The Talmud takes the idea of protection further by teaching that the refugee is given a place to live in the city of refuge, and he does not have to pay taxes to the Levites.
A second reason for the restriction is that since taking a life is such an awful deed, even an inadvertent killer should be punished. So he is exiled from his home, his land, his friends and neighbors. This makes a “city of refuge” more like a city of imprisonment (though it is a very nice prison, where he can have a normal life within the city limits).
A third reason is that the Levites who run the city, and are presumably spiritually elevated by their career of serving God, will help the killer to repent and atone for his guilt over any possible negligence.
I would add that it would be hard to process your guilt and horror over causing someone’s death if you stayed in your old job and kept associating with the same people (who would now see you differently). Moving to a new place would give you breathing room. Although the residents of the city of refuge would all know why you were there, you would still get a chance to built a new identity, instead of pretending you were the same old person.
Then why does the exile in a city of refuge end when the high priest of all Israel dies?
Whatever reasons they give, traditional commentators agree that the high priest was a beloved figure whom everyone looked up to. So his death was a national tragedy, touching everyone’s heart and moving everyone to see life differently.
Rambam (12-century commentator Moses ben Maimon, or Maimonides) wrote that when the high priest dies, a compensator of the blood (go-eil hadam) loses his taste for vengeance, so it becomes safe for his relative’s killer to leave the city of refuge.
Other commentary views the death of the high priest as the final cleansing of the inadvertent killer’s soul, so he becomes sufficiently pure of heart to go back to his former life with the right attitude.
I’ve seen similar psychological transformations in my own congregation, P’nai Or of Portland, when our beloved founding rabbi, Aryeh Hirschfield of blessed memory, passed away unexpectedly. So many of us felt overwhelmed by grief, we could have fallen apart as a community. Instead, the shock and grief opened our hearts, so that many of us rose above petty personal issues and took on new challenges to keep the congregation going. We had even more lay leadership for services, more learning, more support for each other. And we’re still going strong.
Although it is a psychological truth that the death of a beloved leader can transform people, we must not postpone our own transformations until our personal high priests die. We need to begin changing our lives at once, just as an unintentional killer was required to flee to a city of refuge at once. And we need to open our hearts so that any tragedy or insight might offer transformation.
Few of us are haunted by the knowledge that we accidentally killed a human being. But many of us are haunted by other things we did in the past. Our society rarely provides us with clearly defined refuges from our internal “compensator of the blood”: our recurrent guilt, self-accusation, or emotional memories. We need to find our own cities of refuge, even if they are part-time or internal.
May each of us find a place of refuge from the past deeds that haunt us. May each of us be able to use that refuge to look more honestly at our past and accept it with compassion toward ourselves. And then may each of us be blessed with a big shift in perspective, opening up a new phase in our lives.
From Rav DovBer Pinson
Energy of the Week: Parshas Masei
Rav DovBer Pinson
Short Trip in the Long Journey
Marking Short Term Goals and Destinations
This week’s Torah reading concludes the book of Bamidbar, known as ‘numbers.’ The literal translation of Bamidbar is ‘in the desert.’ The Torah recaps the journeys the nation of Israel took, beginning with an exodus from Egypt, and continuing with their forty year journey in the desert.
The opening words are; “These are the journeys of the children of Israel who left the land of Egypt…. They journeyed from… and camped in…” (33:1-5)
In total the Torah marks forty-two journeys, each one of these journeys includes a movement and a resting point. Every journey includes an actual movement and a camping, and together they create a ‘journey.’ Their destination was the Promised Land, yet the forty-two journeys took them as far as the Land, and they did not (yet) enter.
Further along in this week’s Torah reading we learn about the forty-two cities that were given to the Levites, as they did not inherit a portion in the actual land of Israel as did the other eleven tribes. These cities of the Levites also served as cities of refuge, for those seeking immunity and in need of spiritual/mental/psychological healing.
The forty-two journeys of the desert represent and are parallel to, the forty-two cities of the Levites. Just as the forty-two cities offered shelter and a home for the wanderers in the land of Israel, both for the nomadic Levites, and those in need of shelter, the forty-two journeys of camping represent a resting point, and a place of shelter throughout the turbulent desert journey.
These forty-two journeys are representative of our movement through life. There is the big goal that we are constantly striving towards, our promised land, as it were. And then there are the smaller achievements we accomplish on the way. These smaller journeys are essential to the bigger picture, and each one is complete as a journey on its own.
Vayisu, vayachanu – And they traveled and they camped. Each small journey is a full cycle of movement and rest.
This is reflected as well in the ‘Ana B’koach’ – the ancient prayer that corresponds to the forty-two letter name of Hashem – that is used to assist us in transitions. To transition from one journey in life to another, we must include the movement and the resting place and then the journey will be a forward and upward movement towards our larger life goals.
The Energy of the Week:
Marking Short Term Goals and Destinations
This week is the energy of the small goal accomplishment. The energy of the one year plan as opposed to the life plan. In our lives we must have both, the overarching life goal – which is the big plan, and the smaller goals, those that we hope to accomplish this week, this month or this year. These goals are all moving towards the ultimate life goal, yet each one is its own journey, with its own set of hurdles, celebrations and plateaus.
At times, thinking of the larger life goals, we become overwhelmed, and the achievement of that goal seems an impossibility.
A person with a life’s desire to create a warm loving home and family who finds herself single, may feel that this life goal is out of reach and unattainable. But the journey towards the big goal is paved with smaller journeys, incremental steps that take us ever forward. For this person, setting a goal of dating at least one person a month would be the small journey.
This week take an accounting of your large life goal, and then set a ‘small goal’ which is aligned with the larger one but stands on its own.
Allow this goal to be its own journey – complete with movement and rest. Mark the accomplishment of the small goal as its own success before moving forward to the next journey.
From Rabbi James Stone Goodman
Some Day Thing 2011
Or everyone’s wrong
These and these are the words of the living God [Eruvin 13b]
For three years Hillel and Shammai argued
Until a Bat Kol – a voice from heaven –
We were eavesdropping on Hashem’s messengers
This and also this [eilu v’eilu]
Hillel prevailed because he was either humble
Shammai was severe.
Hillel, I am told, led with kindness
Shammai led with potential
What it might be in the future
I was thinking —
We need Your wisdom
And we need it now.
The arguments haven’t settled out yet
It’s a someday thing
Someday somebody would get it
But until they do —
Lead with kindness
Both — eilu v’eilu —
Both opinions are Godliness
For the sake of heaven, they used to say
String beads, be compassionate, be humble,
We know they’re right.
There are so many stops on the way
42 to be exact
I can’t be sure any one is more meaningful
Than any other
I do know this:
Every turn necessary
Every stop significant
And if Sinai isn’t mentioned?
It’s not because we weren’t there.
I was there
You bet I was
And I’m going back again.
jsg, s’dot yam
From Digital Maggid
Cities of Refuge
by Maggid Azi Shabatto
אֵת שֵׁשׁ-עָרֵי הַמִּקְלָט
et sheish arei hamiklat
they shall be the six cities of refuge (Numbers 35:6)
די זעקס ערי־מקלט זיינען די זעקס ווערטער פונ’ם פּסוק „שמע ישראל ה’ אלהינו ה’ אחד.“ „ועליהם תתנו“ — די 48 ווערטער וואס זיינען פאראן אין די פּרשה „ואהות“ ביז „ובשעריך.“
אָט–דאָס זיינען די זעקס „ערי־מקלט“ וואס יעדער איד קען זיך באהאלטען און באשיצען זיי אויב ער האָט געתאָן עפּעס שלעכטס ניצול צו ווערען פון די מקטריגים וואָס פארפאָלגען אים. (אוהב ישראל)
The six cities of refuge are the six words from the Sh’ma:“Sh’ma Yisroel HaShem Elokeinu HaShem Echad” (Hear, Israel, HaShem is our Gd, HaShem is One). ”Va’aleihem titnu” (in addition, you shall give them) — the 48 words that are in the V’ahavta from “V’ahavta” (And you shall love) to “u’visharekha” (and on your gates).
These are the six cities of refuge in which every Jew can hide and be protected if he has done something bad, to be save from the accusers that persecute him. (Ohev Yisroel — Abraham Joshua Heshel)
So the passage is talking about the establishment of cities of refuge where “manslayers” could go to be protected against persecution. These cities were to be given to the Levites, who did not otherwise own property. In addition, there were to be 42 more cities, for a total of 48.
Why not just say “you shall give 48 cities” to the Levites as cities of refuge? Because, says Heshel, the six cities mentioned first refers to the Sh’ma, and the entire group of 48 refers to the V’ahavta. Most of us are probably not manslayers, but we can still retreat into the Sh’ma and the V’ahavta to escape whatever persecutes us.
July 29, 2011
Rabbi Kerry M. OlitzkySpecial to the Jewish Times
It is probably not coincidental that the doubled Torah portion of Matot and Masei is more frequently joined together than any other in the annual cycle of Torah readings. Some will say that it is a coincidence of the calendar.
I would argue that the Rabbis chose this combination because of its message — the oaths that are listed in Parshat Matot help prepare us for the recollections of the journey of Israel in Parshat Masei.
A perfunctory read of Masei suggests that it is a straightforward recounting of the journey of the ancient Israelites in the desert, a sort of after-the-fact itinerary. It reads like the same kind of retelling that anyone might do following their own trip.
One after another, “We went here and this is what happened.” But this is no simple slide show of scenic stops along a vacation route. Rather, it is really a recounting of the miracles that Israel experienced in the desert, contextualized by a redemption from Egypt at the beginning and the anticipation of a Land of Promise and beyond, at the end.
Much like our own lives, the journey of our ancestors was divided into segments.
In fact, there are 42 segments that are identified in this recounting, 42 opportunities to experience the Divine on the journey. Much as we do before we take a step into the future, we relive the past, how we got to this place.
What is most important is the lesson that this Torah portion teaches. Each step along the way is framed in reflection of the relationship with the Divine. Each step acknowledges the presence of the Divine — the participation of the Divine — in our journey.
What is striking, however, is that what would be the paradigmatic experience — the revelation at Sinai, which really acts as a measuring for everything else — is missing from the listing. One commentator, Rabbi Mordechai HaCohen, in his volume Al HaTorah, suggests that “once the Torah was given, it became timeless and cut loose from any one place: Every moment is its moment and every place its place.”
In effect, therefore, it became embedded in each step of the journey and didn’t need to be separated out. Once revealed, the Torah became the roadmap for the journey — as it is for us today.
The journey in the desert evolved. We didn’t know what we would encounter between Egypt and Israel. Our lives are an evolving journey. We know not what we will encounter between our narrow places of Egypt and our promised lands of destination.
More than many others, the presence of G-d — the actual miracles of G-d — is acknowledged throughout this portion. That is why the oaths in Matot are so important. They initiate our connection that is then realized in the recounting in Masei. The Israelites noted the miracles in their lives and shared it with us through this recounting across hundreds of generations.
We must do the same. As we experience the miracles of everyday living, we shouldn’t be afraid to share it with others or acknowledge the Source of these miracles as we share them.
From Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies
Shabbat Parashat Mattot-Masei
July 21, 2012/2 Av 5772
By: Rabbi Ilana Berenbaum Grinblat,
Lecturer in Rabbinics
Down the River
Torah Reading: Numbers 30:2 – 36:13
Haftarah Reading: Jeremiah 2:4-28:3, 3:4, 4:1-2
Last year on this week’s Torah portion, I was in Cancun, Mexico for a vacation. I was at a crossroads in my life and unsure how to move forward. I was deciding between two professional avenues and had been debating internally to no avail.
Then we spent the day tubing down a river. The river had a gentle, almost imperceptible current. Along the way, I discovered that the current was stronger than it seemed. I felt a huge difference between when I was swimming with the current or against it. When I was with the current, I moved swiftly stroke after stroke in one direction. However, at one point, I ended up too far to the side and got stuck in an inlet. To get out, I needed to swim against the current which was difficult. It took all my strength to get back to the main part of the river.
At the bottom of the river, I realized that one of my options felt like swimming with the current and the other felt like swimming against it. My choice became clear.
This week’s Torah portion is also at a crossroads. The double portion Mattot-Masei (which means Tribes-Journeys) concludes the book of Numbers. At the end of the each book of the Torah, three special words are recited — “Chazak chazak v’nitchazek” which means, “strong strong, and we will get stronger.”
I once learned a poignant lesson about the last word of each book of the Torah. The book of Bereshit (Genesis) tells the story from the creation of the world through the death of Joseph. The last word of the book of Genesis is b’mitzrayim (which means “in Egypt”). This word is a perfect segue into the book of Shemot (Exodus) which is all about the Israelites’ slavery and the Exodus from Egypt.
The last word of the book of Shemot (Exodus) is ma’saehem which means “their journeys” which leads beautifully into the book of Vayikra (Leviticus) which is about the people’s desert travels. The last word of Vayikra is Sinai, the Mountain on which the Israelites received the Torah. The last word of Bamidbar (Numbers) is Jericho, a place near the Jordan River which was one of the last stops along the trek. Finally, the last word of Devarim (Deuteronomy) is Israel, the ultimate destination.
Taken together, those five words: “b’mitzrayim (in Egypt), ma’saehem (their journeys), Sinai, Jericho and Israel” are a concise summary of the Torah. These words are like a current flowing through the Torah — pulling from one book to the other, moving the Jewish people forward.
In reflecting back on the day on the river, the current became to me a metaphor for God. Each of us has a divine current within our lives. As in the river, the current alone is not enough; we still need to swim. Likewise, the presence of God in our lives does not exempt us from taking action. Yet we can notice when our efforts feel like they’re in concert with or contrary to our inner current. Sometimes, we need to allow the current to take us in a direction we didn’t expect. God’s plans for us may be different than the course we mapped out for ourselves. Following God’s lead, we may find blessings we never could have anticipated.
As summer creeps towards fall, and Numbers moves to Deuteronomy, let’s swim along with the divine current within our hearts. Chazak Chazak v’nitzchazek: Strong, strong, and we’ll grow stronger.
From Rabbi David Zaslow
I took the names of each of the resting places on the Exodus (Numbers 33) and translated them from the etymological origin of their Hebrew names. The names indicate the varying psychological states experienced by the Israelites, and can be applied to our own lives today…In each of our lifetimes we too make 42 journeys.
The 42 Journeys
Meta-Translations by Rabbi David Zaslow
They journeyed from Born of the Sun
and rested at Thanksgiving Harvest Shelters.
They journeyed from the Thanksgiving Harvest Shelters
and rested at You, With Them.
They journeyed from You, With Them
and rested at Towering Mouth of Freedom Caverns.
They journeyed from Towering Mouth of Freedom Caverns
and rested at Bitter Fountain.They journeyed from Bitter Fountain
and rested at Strong Trees and Rams.
They journeyed from Strong Trees and Rams
and rested at This-Is-The-End Sea.
They journeyed from This is the End Sea
and rested at Desert Where the Moon Was Worshiped.
They journeyed from Desert Where the Moon Was Worshiped
and rested at Who?s That Knocking?
They journeyed from Who?s That Knocking?
and rested at I Will Knead Bread.
They journeyed from I Will Knead Bread
and rested at Rest Our Weakened Hands.
They journeyed from Rest Our Weakened Hands
and rested at Ultimate Revelation.
They journeyed from Ultimate Revelation
and rested at Graves of Lust.
They journeyed from Graves of Lust a
and rested at Settled Abode.
They journeyed from Settled Abode
and rested at Wild Broom Juniper.
They journeyed from Wild Broom Juniper
and rested at Bursting Pomegranate.
They journeyed from Bursting Pomegranate
and rested at Moon White Bricks.
They journeyed from Moon White Bricks
and rested at Dew Drop Ruins.
They journeyed from Dew Drop Ruins
and rested at Community.
They journeyed from Community
and rested at Illuminated Beauty.
They journeyed from Illuminated Beauty
and rested at the Shaking In Fear.
They journeyed from Shaking In Fear
and rested at Assembly of Voices.
They journeyed from Assembly of Voices
and rested at Beneath and Under.
They journeyed from Beneath and Under
and rested at Remembering Abraham?s Father.
They journeyed from Remembering Abraham?s Father
and rested at Impact of Sweetness.
They journeyed from Impact of Sweetness
and rested at Oil of Eight.
They journeyed from Oil of Eight
and rested at the Bonds of Ethics.
They journeyed from Bonds of Ethics
and rested at Wells of the Sons of Twisting.
They journeyed from Wells of the Sons of Twisting
and rested at Inroad Hole.
They journeyed from an Inroad Hole
and rested at Goodness.
They journeyed from Goodness
and rested at Passage Over.
They journeyed from Passage Over
and rested at Giant?s Backbone.
They journeyed from the Giant?s Backbone
and rested at Palm Desert which is Holy.
They journeyed from Palm Desert which is Holy
and rested at Mountain on a Mountain.
They journeyed from Mountain on a Mountain
and rested at Shady Image Place.
They journeyed from Shady Image Place
and rested at Obscurity in Darkness.
They journeyed from Obscurity in Darkness
and rested at Bottle Rattling Ghosts.
They journeyed from Bottle Rattling Ghosts
and rested at The Ruins of Passing Over.
They journeyed from The Ruins of Passing Over
and rested at Waste and Fortune.
They journeyed from Waste and Fortune
and rested at The Secret of the Two Dried Fig Cakes.
They journeyed from The Secret of the Two Dried Fig Cakes
and rested at Mountains of Passing Across.
They journeyed from Mountains of Passing Across
and rested at the Plains of a Fathers Seed.
They rested at the Plains of a Father?s Seed
by the Flowing Downward River, City of the Moon ?
from the House of Desolation
by Mourning Adversarial Meadow
on the Plains of a Father?s Seed.
From Zelig Golden
Journey to Our Land, Journey to Ourselves: Parsha Mase’ei
Zelig Golden | July 17, 2009
In this week’s parsha, Mase’ei or “Journeys,” we recount the forty-two stages of our epic journey through the wilderness from the narrows of Egypt to the Promised Land. Then, G-d describes the perimeter of our physical land, and gives us our very first rule for how to relate to our land. G-d tells Moses: “open space all around the cities shall you give to the Levites. The cities shall be theirs for dwelling, and their open space shall be for their animals, for their possessions, and for all the amenities of life.” (Numbers 35:2-3). Later, the Talmud applied this rule to the land of all Israelites.
The Torah uses the Hebrew term ‘migrash’ to describe this “open space.” What is a ‘migrash’? Some define it as pasture, or functional agricultural land, while other sages, such as Onkelos translate it as ‘revah,’ simple, natural space. Either way, it is notable that the first requirement for how we are to settle our land is to carve out a part of the land and preserve it without building or planting on it.
Why did G-d require a migrash? Some argue that it was simply smart urban planning. Rashi dispells this notion, emphasizing that a migrash refers to an area consisting of a permanent open space serving as a place of beauty and respite from the city. Maimonides further expounds on this idea, stating that one may not make a migrash into a city, nor into a cultivated field (Mishna Torah, Zeraim, Laws of Shmita and Yovel 13:4-5).
So, even as we end the long journey through the wilderness, and prepare to build our cities, we understand the need to carve out untrammeled space to connect with nature, for there we can find the source of ourselves. As A.D. Gordon, the early labor Zionist explained, “Teshuvah, ‘return’ back to God,’ really means human’s return to nature. This is because teshuvah means going back to one’s point of origin, one’s source, coming back home after a period of absence.”
In our modern world of today, how shall we understand the law of migrash? Considering a historical perspective, we were literally exiled from ‘our’ land and repeatedly displaced from lands for almost two thousand years. Thus we were unable to practice migrash because we were alien people in other people’s lands. Even upon our literal return to ‘our’ land with the return to Israel, we have yet to implement migrash again. Some would say this is because of political and economic realities, which may be true, but on a deeper level I believe that we are currently unable to practice migrash because the mode of exile has become so deeply engrained in each one of us, as Gordon explained, “exile reflects the rift between the Jew and nature.”
Gordon’s perspective resonates with my own, that our inability to practice migrash, and our other land-based covenants such as schmita, is as much a symptom of our physical reality as it is a metaphysical one: “The Jews’ return to their land symbolizes human’s return to nature and cosmos, which is a necessary precondition for one’s regeneration and a Jew’s regeneration in particular and humankind’s regeneration as a whole.” Thus, it is my prayers that on whatever land we reside, may each of us end the journey of exile and begin to repair the rift between nature and us so that we may fully return to ourselves.
From Rav DovBer Pinson
This is a link to Rav DovBer Pinson’s teaching about the Ana B’Koach prayer which is mentioned in commentaries for Parsha Massei
From American Jewish World Service
Rabbi Dorothy A. Richman
Parashat Masei, the portion of journeys, begins with a recounting of the Israelites’ travels from slavery in Egypt to the borders of Israel. Yet within this re-telling of the Israelites’ trek comes a different journey: the path of a manslayer into exile.
An entire chapter of the parashah addresses the process by which an unintentional murderer is sent out of the community for his own protection. A person convicted of accidentally taking a life is sent to one of six cities of refuge. He lives there, guarded from his victim’s avenging relatives, until the natural death of the high priest.1 If an exiled murderer wants to return home, his only recourse is to pray for the High Priest’s death.
Why the connection between a powerful priest and an accidental killer? Strikingly, the Mishnah tells us that the high priest’s mother is also connected to the exiled manslayers.
…Therefore, the mothers2 of the high priests supply [the unintentional murderers] with food and clothing, in order that they won’t pray that their sons die.3
The image of the High Priest’s mother distributing food and clothing to exiled murderers is unexpected—and incomplete. The text does not fully capture the enormity of her project. Think of the logistics: one woman providing basic necessities for exiled murderers in six different cities. Did she have helpers? It seems that the High Priest’s mother ran the equivalent of a relief organization.
The Mishnah presents the mother’s role in a self-serving manner: she cares for the exiles because she knows it is necessary for the safety of her son. Yet could the High Priest’s mother have another motivation for dedicating her life of social prestige and privilege to those forced to flee their homes?
This story is reminiscent of one we’ve heard before. When baby Moses was endangered by Pharaoh’s decree to kill all first-born Israelite boys, it was an Egyptian princess, the daughter of Pharaoh, who sheltered and nurtured him. Both the mother of the High Priest and the daughter of Pharaoh were women of status who protected the lives of the vulnerable.
In the case of baby Moses, the Israelites were targets of direct oppression. They were taught that their lives were disposable in Egyptian society. In the case of the accidental murderers, the exiled are products of an imperfect legal system: the only means to protect their safety was exclusion. Pharaoh’s daughter and the mother of the High Priest challenged these political and social indignities, preventing the vulnerable from feeling like society’s refuse.
These women have something to teach us.
Around the world, millions of people are taught, purposefully and implicitly, by violence and poverty, by being denied access to education, health care and fair labor, that they are disposable.
Pharaoh’s daughter’s action toward baby Moses was in contradiction to the harsh and violent oppression of Egypt toward the Israelites. Through her aid, the mother of the High Priest brought dignity to the exiled and recognized the injustice of the social system that enforced his exclusion.
This week, the Israelites recount their passage from a place of slavery to a land of promise. Embedded inside is another narrative, the story of a woman embodying care and responsibility for the banished. She models for us the true journey of our people: creating a sustainable freedom with dignity for all.
1 Bamidbar 35.
2 The Mishnah, which refers to “mothers” (plural), indicates that the mother of the high priest could refer to more than one woman, due to the possibility of the appointment and subsequent replacement of a temporary High Priest. (See Pinchas Kehati’s commentary to Mishnah Makkot 2:6.)
3 Mishnah, Makkot 2:6.
By: Rabbi Adam Greenwald,
Executive Director, Miller Introduction
to Judaism Program
Like Driving at Night
Torah Reading: Numbers 33:1 – 36:13
Haftarah Reading: Jeremiah 2:4 – 28; 3:4
The writer, E.L. Doctorow once said that writing a novel is a lot like driving at night. You can only see as far as the headlights shine, but you can make the whole trip that way.
I have long felt that line contains one of the wisest metaphors not only for writing, but for love, and for life. We cannot imagine where life will take us, with what accompanying twists and turns and unexpected bumps. We can only continue forward, taking each curve and dip gently as it leads us to a future that is always just beyond the horizon line.
Certainly it is this way when we embark on a marriage. Couples stand under their huppah not knowing what the life they begin together will actually entail. They cannot know who will get sick and who will live to see great-grandchildren. They cannot know who will fall out of love and who will experience a love that only intensifies over a lifetime. And so it is with having a child, and beginning a career, and moving to a new place, and so on. Our life’s journey takes us in directions we never expect, and poses challenges we will never know until we face them.
We read in this parasha of our ancestor’s wandering, step by step through forty-two stops in the desert on the way to a Promised Land that none had ever seen, and none could truly picture. The Baal Shem Tov, that great and compassionate teacher, taught that what happened to the whole of our people, inevitably recapitulates itself in the life of every individual. We are wanderers, each and every one of us, taking the road in stops and starts as we make our way through the wilderness.
Rabbi Noa Kushner, who leads the wonderful San Francisco congregation called “The Kitchen” delivered a beautiful sermon last year in which she taught that there is a profound difference between being lost and zigzagging. To be lost, she says, is to wander without purpose and without goal; but, to zigzag is to take a long and winding path with purpose and conviction. Our ancestors were not lost as they made their circuitous route through the wilderness – they were proceeding together with a firm belief in the possibility of a better world, even if the details of that dreamt of place were beyond their sight.
May we be blessed with the courage to journey into the unknown with purpose, with the knowledge that though the road be obscured by darkness we have enough light within us to make the entire trip.
From the Maqam Project
THURSDAY, 24 JULY 2014 02:54 RABBI HILLEL GOLDBERG
THE Israelites were condemned to wander 40 years in the desert. Did they?
Following the failure of the spies to instill confidence in the free Israelite slaves that they could conquer the Land of Israel, G-d said, in effect: Free slaves cannot become free men.
They will have to die out.
It will take 40 years.
Which means: The stopping points of the freed slaves in the desert recall some awful developments, such as the places where the Israelites lost faith that they could conquer the land of Canaan.
At the journey’s end, how much of it should be recalled?
Should the places of failure be mentioned?
The truth is, most people revise their life story as they go along. Points of conflict or failure are forgotten, intentionally written out, dishonestly revised or simply not talked about.
“Revisionist history” is not just a historian’s or a politician’s enterprise. It is the occupation of many, perhaps most, people.
At the end of the Israelite journey in the desert, all of the encampments are recalled. Not one is omitted.
In fact, some of the encampments along the wanderings are mentioned for the first time only in the historical review.
No revisionist history.
THERE were 42 encampments during the 40 years in the desert. The first 14 occurred before the mission of the spies. The last eight took place during the 40th year, after the death of Aaron the High Priest, brother of Moses. So, during the “40 years of wandering,” which actually were 38 years, there were 20 journeys, less than one per year.
There was also backtracking. The Israelites backtracked seven times to bury Aaron in the designated place. All told, then, there were 49 stopping points.
The author of the commentary Sefat Emet considers each of the individual desert treks to be a stage of ascent from the 49th, next-to-last level of impurity to which the slaves in Egypt had sunk.
Traditionally, there are 50 levels of impurity, and if one reaches the 50th (bottom) level, one is incurable.
The Israelites were almost there. But with the exodus they turned around and began to ascend — 49 times. They conquered one level of impurity after the other.
Note: To reach the number 49, Sefat Emet is compelled to include the seven times that the Israelites backtracked.
A life story — be it of a nation or an individual — has to include all the steps. That inclusion — of the good, bad and ugly — does not necessarily add up to a negative picture.
The Israelites’ seven steps in reverse were part of the 49 steps of national ascent. Similarly, mistakes I have made are part of my life story, and may have actually been necessary for me to advance my life, or even to turn it around. Again, in viewing the Israelite nation at the end of its desert journey as having risen beyond all 49 levels of impurity, the backward steps and the encampments at times of failure are included in the count.
Y. Nachshoni summarizes, “At the end of one’s spiritual climb, a Jew must remember all that has happened to him since the start.”
PROBABLY the occasion in which this stricture is observed purely in the breach is the funeral.
As the old Yiddish saying goes, “All brides are beautiful, all dead were pious.”
To paint a person only by his good points is to deprive that person of the struggles he underwent, the challenges he overcome, the victories that did not come easy, the heroism he displayed.
To be perfect from beginning to end, head to toe, is not a compliment, because it cannot be true.
By recalling every encampment of the Israelite nation after it left Egypt, including those encampments when the Israelites rebelled, complained or lost faith is to paint a realistic picture.
Precisely on that score, it is an admirable picture, one to be inspired by.
Copyright © 2014 by the Intermountain Jewish News
From Reb Mimi Feigelson
Thoughts on Parshashat Matot- Masei
From Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
The Complexity of Human Rights
From Rabbi Mordecai Finley
Reflections on Torah Portion Mattot-Masei – Rabbi Mordecai Finley
Teaching in Exile
This week’s Torah portion is a double portion. The reason we have double portions is so that during a Jewish leap year, when there are 13 months instead of 12, we can “unpack” the double portions so that each Shabbat in a leap year has its own Torah portion. This double portion end the book of Numbers (Ba-Midbar – “in the desert” in Hebew).
Many of themes in these two Torah portions have to do with final matters before the Israelites enter the Land of Canaan. One of these matters is the concept of the “cities of refuge” that will be established in the land. A person who has killed someone accidentally but negligently is still subject to the family of the deceased sending out an “avenger” (go’el ha-dahm). The perpetrator can flee to a city of refuge and have his case adjudicated. If the killing were deemed completely accidental, the person is free to go. If it turns out that the person committed willful murder, the court hands him over to the blood avenger, who slays the perpetrator. If the killing was negligent, but not intentional, the person can stay safely in the city of refuge until the current High Priest dies. At that time, the Blood Avenger is relieved of his duty to avenge the blood of his kinfolk, and the perpetrator can leave the city safely.
This law clearly seems to prevent something rampant in pre-modern times, and still in force in many places today: the vendetta. If a person from one tribe, group, gang, mob, etc., kills a person from another group, the offended group feels it has the right and duty to kill any member of group of the perpetrator. Destructive feuds follow. This law limits the avenger to only the perpetrator, and introduced the intervention of a court to adjudicate the case. The avenger is, of course, an executioner, but only of someone who has committed intentional murder.
The Talmud takes this wise and fairly straightforward law into unforeseen territory. The Bible says in Deuteronomy 4:42, where the matter is reviewed, that that person guilty of negligent homicide can flee to a city of refuge “and live”. The Talmudic rabbis ask what it means “to live.” Obviously, he goes there to live and not to die; that is the purpose of the law. “To live” must mean something else. The rabbis decide (as recorded in Tractate Makkot 10a) that a person cannot live without the study of Torah, so if a person is exiled to the city of refuge, his teacher must go with him. And where the teacher goes, the whole yeshivah goes.
This reading of the text is, of course, contested, and there is no case recorded case of rabbi and the yeshivah following a negligent killer into the exile of a city of refuge. They are probably referring to something deeper. What is the deeper thing here? Something that every real parent, teacher, healer, therapist, life coach, mentor, true friend, etc. knows: you can only guide if you are willing to go into the exile experienced by the person for whom you are caring. The empathy and insight required for true guidance requires that the guide somehow can peer into the soul of the student not be defended from what one sees there.
One of the finest treatments of this theme, in my opinion, is the film “Good Will Hunting”. As the Robin Williams character enters into the soul-realm of the Matt Damon character, we see both are transformed. Neither is unscathed. The scathing is necessary, like lancing an infection to release the pressure and drain the abscess. The idea of the rabbi accompanying the sufferer into exile is a common theme in Chasidic literature.
The experience of exile is core to the human condition, just as is the presence of those who can lead us out. Sometimes a person, sometimes a film, a book, a song, a poem. Sometimes the Torah.
Shabbat Parashat Mattot – Mas’ey
By: Rabbi Cheryl Peretz
The Road to the Future Through the Past
Torah Reading: Numbers 30:2 – 36:13
Haftarah Reading: Jeremiah 2:4 – 28; 3:4
This week, we read the double Torah portion of Mattot-Mas’ey, completing the book of Numbers, bringing to an end the wandering of our people in the desert as they realize the fulfilment of the original Divine promise – arrival to the Land of Israel – the land flowing with milk and honey. As a pretty central part of the Jewish narrative, we might expect that the Torah portion would focus on what our ancestors may have seen as they stand at the entry to the land – the quality of the land, the beauty of the horizon, the people, what might happen once they cross over into the land. Yet, as the final chapters of desert wandering unfold, what is described is very different. Instead, the opening words of Parashat Mas’ey begin: “These are the travels of the Israelites who went out from the land of Egypt, with their armies, by the hands of Moses and Aaron. And Moses wrote down their goings out and their comings forward according to the word of the Lord; these are their comings forward and their goings out.”
In the verses that follow, the Torah narrates how our people left one place, camped in another; left that place, and camped in yet another – recalling each of the 42 stops in the desert on the way to the Promised Land.
Why, at this point, does it mention when they left Egypt? It should have just said when they went to the Land of Israel. After all, if I were to take a trip from Los Angeles to Dallas and wanted to share my experiences along the way, I would not say ‘this is what happened to me on my trip from Los Angeles’. It is more likely that I would say ‘this is what happened to me on my way to Dallas’. So, why then does this parashah take us back to Egypt and the image of the slavery, degradation, plagues and the like?
This question occupies the minds and the imagination of biblical commentators of all generations and the possible answers find new expressions in different time periods and commentaries. In the midrash of Bamidbar Rabbah (compiled in the medieval period and consisting of interpretive messages from the text) alone, three possible answers are given: recalling each of the camps helps recall the myriad of miracles God brought in the desert when there was no source of food/water, shelter, or protection; listing the name of each and every camp was to remind us of our own mistakes in the wilderness in the doubt, the kvetching (complaining), the lack of faith in Moses and even God; and the purpose was to enhance to critical values, hakhnasat orhim (hosting guests) and gratitude – God cared for us throughout the forty years, so we should be willing to host guests in our own homes, and provide for shelter to those in need. And, just as we would expect our guests to show appropriate gratitude for our efforts to care for them, so we should be grateful to God for the hospitality that God provided.
Rabbi Meir Loeb ben Yechi’el Michael Malbim (1809-1879, Eastern Europe) – known simply as the Malbim and famous for his commentary on the entire Bible answers the question in another way. After all, he says, while the people were in Egypt there were constant reminders of where they were and what was happening to them. And, at each of the 42 stops they made in the desert, they were immersed in experiences that, at times reminded them of their enslavement and persecution at the hands of the Egyptians. According to Malbim, the purpose of the long journey was to rid the Jews of exactly the contagious and dangerous elements that could threaten their fulfillment in the Land of Israel. At every stop they discarded, as it were, another part of their defilement to be ready for what was to come.
The question is similarly asked in another way by the Eastern European commentator known as S’fat Emet. Commenting on the verse, “Moses wrote down their goings out and their comings forward according to the word of the Lord; these are their comings forward and their goings out” he wonders why it is that the order is reversed from the beginning of the verse (which refers to the goings out and their comings forward) to the end of the verse (which refers to the comings forward and their goings out). His answer it seems is that the “coming forward” depends on “goings out” from Egypt.
Only after going out of Egypt and leaving pieces of it behind in each subsequent stop can the Exodus ultimately be complete and the Israelites move forward into the land of Israel. Likewise, in our individual journeys, each of us has those places (physical, emotional, and spiritual) that we have been. And, like our ancestors in the desert, some of those places have left us with our own anger, fears, resentment, disappointment and challenges. But, also like our ancestors of so many years ago, unless and until we look to where we have been and face ourselves honestly and humbly, we cannot possibly let go that which blocks us from growing and experiencing our own journey’s promise.
As we journey through this week and into this Shabbat, I pray that each of us and all of us can revisit the places we have been and leave behind that which impedes our meeting in the Promised Land.
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