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Matot – Masei – Living with the Torah’s Weekly Portion

Matot –Masei: Sunday: Do not Fear

“When a man vows a vow to G-d, or swears an oath to bind his soul with a bond, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that comes out of his mouth.” A person makes a vow out of fear that a certain attraction will overcome him and make him stray from the proper path. For example, he fears that if he will eat a particular food he will deteriorate into overeating. So he takes a vow not to eat of that particular food at all.

We can say that this type of vow is an expression of the fear of losing love. The person who takes the vow fears losing direction and the goal, which is the proper love. (In this case, the love is the will to be healthy). Fear is a ‘feminine’ inclination, and so, the vow in our Torah portion especially relates to women.

Once a person has taken a vow, it becomes a serious matter. Now it is completely forbidden for him to eat of that food – similar to the prohibition against eating pork.

The wise man, however, can abrogate the vow. He elevates the person to a more mature place and says to him: ‘There is no reason to fear too much. Do not fear anything other than G-d and do not fear losing the love important to you. You can reach a place of complete, stable love. Eat the food that you feared would make you stray until you are satiated and control yourself so as not to overeat.’

Matot-Masei: Monday: Educational Anger

And Moses became angry with the officers of the army, the captains of the thousands and the captains of the hundreds, who came from the army of war.”  Moses is angry? How can that be? After all, it is written that “Whoever becomes angry, it is as if he worshipped idol worship”!

We can say that this anger is feigned. From the words of Maimonides, who says that one must beware of anger “until its farthest point” – this seems to be the case. The Rambam continues that if one must guide and reprimand his children-students, or if he is a leader who reprimands the public, then “He should display anger externally in order to cause them grief. And his mind should be calm between him and himself”. Inside, he is calm and completely serene. Outside – he is angry.

The Alter Rebbe takes this one step deeper: Anger is a serious fault because it stems from a lack of faith. If somebody or something insulted you and you begin to seethe,  it is because you expect the entire world to fall into place according to your expectations/demands. You seem to have forgotten that “all is in the hands of Heaven”!

On the other hand, however, “Everything is in the hands of Heaven, except for fear of Heaven”. Fear of Heaven means doing what you are supposed to do. Right now, your job is to teach your child/student. Right now, from Heaven, the mitzvah of reprimanding someone has presented itself – in order to help and to rectify him. This is the anger of Moses. It is not just feigned anger, but rather, proper and just anger – completely free of any personal involvement. Moses, after all, is the most humble of men.

Nonetheless, because anger is dangerous, one needs to be very careful, and it is always necessary to ‘sweeten the judgement’ of anger. Especially now, during the Three Weeks, the halacha says that a teacher should not be stringent with his students. He must teach them exclusively with love.

Matot-Masei: Tuesday: A Hasty Portion of the Land

The sons of Gad and Reuven come to Moses and request a portion of land on the eastern side of the Jordan River. Moses initially opposes their request, fearing a new version of the Sin of the Spies. But after the commit themselves to be at the front lines of the forces conquering the Land – and only afterwards to return to their portion of land, Moses concedes.

Our Sages are critical of the sons of Gad and Reuven and in association with their request, expound on the verse, “A portion of land first acquired in hastiness, and its end will not be blessed.” The sons of Gad and Reuven were ‘hasty’. They acted impetuously, ‘pressured’ to receive their portion, here and now. Moses, on the other hand, had planned for all the tribes on the western side of the Jordan River, which has more holiness, to receive their portions first.

Nonetheless, there is a hidden, positive side to the actions of the sons of Gad and Reuven. The sons of Gad actually wanted to be more connected to Moses. After all, it was Moses who conquered the east side of the Jordan and was ultimately buried there. The sons of Gad were simple Jews, with a burning love for Moses. They wanted to be close to him, in his life and in his death (as is written in the blessing of Gad in the Torah portion, Zot Habracha). Initially, Moses reprimands them, lest their connection to him be external. But ultimately they prove that they are true and loyal “Chassidim”.

There is also something very good about the urge to inherit the land. In recent generations, it appears as a true calling to leave the exile, “ad mosai”? and to quickly reach the true, complete redemption.

Matot-Masei: Wednesday: Two Banks to the Jordan River

In the continuation of our Torah portion, half the tribe of Menashe joins the tribes of Gad and Reuven. All the tribes receive their portions in one place and only the tribe of Menashe splits into two – half on the east side of the Jordan and half on the west. It seems that the sons of Menashe have a special interest in holding both parts of the Land, to hold and hug it in its completeness – with a strong consciousness of wholeness of the Land.

The foundation of “rectification of the state” in our days is the steadfast recognition of the triangle of wholeness: The wholeness of the Nation, the wholeness of the Torah and the wholeness of the Land. Nowadays (Tamuz 5778) we thank G-d have the merit to live in a major part of the Land on the west bank of the Jordan. But we seem to have forgotten the east bank. It is worthwhile to renew our connection to the east bank with the almost forgotten song, *Two banks of the Jordan, this one is ours and so is the other”*. This sentence particularly fits the sons of Menashe, who dwell on the two banks of the Jordan. (The numerical value of this sentence is 1948, a well-known number in our time and also the year of birth of Abraham).

Matot-Masei: Thursday: Three Ways to Connect to the Land of Israel

_And you shall inherit the Land by lot according to your families, to the more you shall give more inheritance, and to the few you shall give the less inheritance, how the lot comes out, it shall be his, to the tribes of your fathers you shall inherit_. Three different methods were combined for allotment of the Land. One is the logical division, according to the evaluation and measurement of the size of the lots (and their quality) in accordance with the size of the families. There is the allotment according to lottery. Our Sages describe the special status of the lottery, which determined which lot every tribe would receive. In addition, the allotment was implemented with ruach hakodesh. Elazar the High Priest would look at the _urim vetumim_ and announce the allotment. To sum up the three methods we can say that they are: intellect, lottery and _ruach hakodesh._

These are three ways to connect to the Land of Israel: The allotment according to intellect expresses connection through the Torah of Israel, the straight-thinking Jewish mind that knows that every Jew has a part in the Land (as is written in the Torah, Hebrew law). This intellect knows that we come to the Land to inherit it in order to fulfill the Torah and mitzvahs within its boundaries.

The allotment according to ruach hakodesh expresses the connection to the Land on the part of the Nation of Israel. The Land of Israel is the good gift that G-d gave to His beloved Nation. In the Land, we unite into one nation, and in its pure air we merit ruach hakodesh and prophecy.

The allotment according to the lottery expresses the intrinsic connection to the Land, the Land of Israel itself is our “lot”. In it, we are connected directly to G-d, in a bond of *faith*, above intellect.

Together, these three methods of connection bring us to the complete Land of Israel (together with the “two banks of the Jordan”), as is alluded to in the gematria: ארץ ישראל השלמה = גורל, רוח הקדש, שכל. / The complete Land of Israel = lottery, ruach hakodesh, intellect.


Matot-Masei: Friday: The Secret of the Open Lot

Command the Children of Israel and they shall give the Levites from the inheritance of their possession, cities in which to dwell and open lots (migrash) around the cities, you shall give to the Levites”.  The open lot is an open space that is not designated for dwellings or for fields or vineyards.

The word migrash is reminiscent of the Levite Gershon family (which was mentioned at the beginning of the Book of Numbers). The words migrash and gershon share a common root, גרש /garesh. This root appears in the Torah, when Sarah says to Abraham, גרש האמה הזאת ואת בנה/Garesh/Drive out this maidservant and her son. What is the connection?

The connection to Abraham gets even stronger when we meditate on the cities of the Levites. Within those cities, special attention is paid to the houses (as is explicit in the Torah portion of Behar/”at the mountain”). Due to the fact that the Levites did not receive a regular inheritance in the Land, the city is like a field for them (as Rashi explains in Behar). This provides us with a triangular structure: Inside the cities there are houses. The city parallels a field. And the external open lot is like a mountain. These are the three concepts that our Sages used to express the relation of our Forefathers to the Temple: “Abraham called it a mountain, Isaac called it a field, Jacob called it a house”.

The house is the internal place, the field is the workplace and the mountain is the open space. In the powers of the soul, the mountain/migrash parallels the ‘surrounding light’ – the unrecognized powers beyond consciousness, which we reach through faith, the special trait of Abraham. From here we can return to the sons of Gershon: They carry the curtains of the Tabernacle, which are its exterior, which also allude to surrounding light.

Matot-Masie: Shabbat: Mitzvahs are Nullified

This is the thing that G-d commanded to the daughters of Tzlafchad, saying, to the good in their eyes, they shall be wives, but to the family of the tribe of their father they shall be wives.” A woman who inherits a portion in the Land can marry only someone from her tribe. This is an explicit commandment in the Torah, but it was enacted for only one generation! In the following generation, the verse, “This is the thing” was explained as “This thing will not be enacted, only in this generation”. And then it was declared that the prohibition had ended and the tribes could intermarry. This happened on the 15th of Av, which will be celebrated soon. This is the reason that this day is so happy.

The phenomenon of a commandment that is required at the beginning and is then nullified, is reminiscent of the words of our Sages: “Mitzvahs that are nullified in the future days to come”. This refers to a future reality in which a directive requiring that something be done is not necessary. On a deeper level, we learn from this that when the mitzvah has been fulfilled to perfection one time – as certainly the righteous daughters of Tzlafchad did – the purpose of the mitzvah has been accomplished and then the future state of “mitzvahs that are nullified” can be accessed. If so, all 613 mitzvahs are simply waiting for us to finally fulfill them with the fitting perfection. At that point, the role of the mitzvahs will be fulfilled and we will progress to the next stage of clinging to G-d – from a place of joy and pleasure.

Surprisingly, our Sages explain that the daughters of Tzlafchad themselves were not obligated to marry into their own tribe of Menashe. “To the good in their eyes, they shall be wives”. Instead, the prescription to marry within their tribe was simply a ‘good piece of advice’ (Baba Batra 120:1). In other words, the daughters of Tzlafchad chose the good in their eyes of their own free will, to fulfill what other women were obligated to fulfill. This is another point at which this mitzvah is instructive of the entire Torah:  In the Zohar, all 613 mitzvahs are called “advice”. The mitzvah is a good piece of advice on how to cling to G-d. In this world, the advice is obligatory, and sometimes accomplished against free will. But in the future, we will see how this advice is the very best and we will embrace them completely willingly.

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