Parshat Matot - Masei
Moshe teaches the rules and restrictions governing oaths and vows especially the role of a husband or father in either upholding or annulling a vow. Bnei Yisrael wage war against Midian. They kill the five Midianite kings, all the males and Bilaam. Moshe is upset that women were taken captive. They were catalysts for the immoral behavior of the Jewish People. He rebukes the officers. The spoils of war are counted and apportioned. The commanding officers report to Moshe that there was not one casualty among Bnei Yisrael. They bring an offering that is taken by Moshe and Elazar and placed in the Ohel Mo'ed (Tent of Meeting). The Tribes of Gad and Reuven, who own large quantities of livestock, petition Moshe to allow them to remain east of the Jordan and not enter the Land of Israel. They explain that the land east of the Jordan is quite suitable grazing land for their livestock. Moshe's initial response is that this request will discourage the rest of Bnei Yisrael, and that it is akin to the sin of the spies. They assure Moshe that they will first help conquer Israel, and only then will they go back to their homes on the eastern side of the Jordan River. Moshe grants their request on condition that they uphold their part of the deal.
The Torah names all 42 encampments of Bnei Yisrael on their 40-year journey from the Exodus until the crossing of the Jordan River into Eretz Yisrael. G-d commands Bnei Yisrael to drive out the Canaanites from Eretz Yisrael and to demolish every vestige of their idolatry. Bnei Yisrael are warned that if they fail to rid the land completely of the Canaanites, those who remain will be "pins in their eyes and thorns in their sides." The boundaries of the Land of Israel are defined, and the tribes are commanded to set aside 48 cities for the levi'im, who do not receive a regular portion in the division of the Land. Cities of refuge are to be established: Someone who murders unintentionally may flee there. The daughters of Tzelofchad marry members of their tribe so that their inheritance will stay in their own tribe. Thus ends the Book of Bamidbar/Numbers, the fourth of the Books of the Torah.
A Matchless Matchmaker
"When you cross the Jordan to the land of Canaan, you shall designate cities for yourselves, cities of refuge." (35:10-11)
Not long ago, the much beloved wife of a great Rabbi passed away. In due course he was remarried to a lady many years his junior. The second marriage was also very happy. Someone commented to him that he had been blessed to find such a good second match. "Well," he commented, "you see, I had the best matchmaker in the world." "Oh really, who was that?" asked the other. The Rabbi replied, "Shortly before my first wife, may she rest in peace, passed away, she said to me in the hospital one day, "David, when I pass away, I want you to go to Eretz Yisrael. There’s a great friend of mine who lives in Jerusalem. I’ll give you the address. I want you to marry her. She’s a wonderful person. I can rely on her to look after you properly."
In this week’s parsha the Torah mandates the establishment of cities of refuge. Someone who had killed inadvertently could take refuge in one of these cities and escape the blood avenger of the victim’s family. The Torah chose as the sites of the refuge cities the cities of the Levi’im. Why? Why did G-d choose the cities of the Levi’im as the cities of refuge?
When someone kills, he doesn’t just kill a person. He kills a son, a brother, a sister, a father, a mother. It’s rare indeed that no one is affected by a murder except the victim himself. Killing someone has a ripple effect. A relative feels implacable resentment against someone who kills a member of his family. The Levi’im, however, did not react in this way. Since it was G-d’s will that there should be cities to which accidental murderers could run, they would accept a murderer into their community without any resentment, even if they were related to the deceased. Such was their spiritual level that they subordinated their feelings totally to G-d’s will.
Man is not an animal. Being human means being able to subordinate our instinctive feelings to our higher selves. However, it’s difficult to imagine being on the level of selflessness of the Levi’im or that rebetzin on her deathbed. Nevertheless, just knowing that there are people like that in the world may encourage us to be a little less selfish.
For the right match can kindle a lot of light.