• Dvar for Matot-Maasei (Numbers 30:2-36:13)

    After Moshe lost an entire generation of Jews because they resisted entering the land of Israel, in Parshat Matot they seem to be doing the exact same thing. As they prepare to enter the land, the shevatim (tribes) of Reuven and Gad approach Moshe with a similar request. This time they claim to want to “build for their flocks and cities for the small children” (32:16). After warning them not to make the same mistake as the previous generation, Moshe agrees to let them live outside of the Promised Land, but appears to bargain with them by getting them to agree to help the others fight for the land first. Why did Moshe agree to let them live outside of the promised land, and what did he bargain for?

    A closer inspection of the dialogue helps us answer these questions, and can help us understand the importance of setting priorities. When Moshe responds to them (32:24), he tells them to “build for yourselves cities for your small children and pens for your flocks”, exactly the opposite order in which they asked. What Moshe was really telling them was that if they’re really looking out for the well-being of their children, then look after them (i.e. their perspectives) before building yourselves cities and buildings. This can also be why he allowed them to settle outside the Land altogether: Moshe understood that it wasn’t that the tribes lacked faith in their destiny, because they were willing to fight for it with everyone else, but rather that from their perspective living right outside the Land would be better for them logistically. Being able to accept other perspectives, despite initial fears and uncertainties, is the true test of being a thoughtful Jew, a positive parent and an understanding person.

  • Dvar for Matot-Maasei (Numbers 30:2-36:13)

    One of this week’s Parshiot, Parshat Maasei, lists the many places where the Jews in the desert traveled through and camped. Since the Torah doesn’t waste any words or letters, it would seem strange to list places that the Jews visited, if it meant nothing for us today. As commentaries help explain, when you love someone, you want to remember everything you did together, and G-d’s love for us is no different. This love that G-d has for us is the reason why the Torah spends so many Pessukim (verses) listing the places the Jews visited. As Rabbi Twerski asks, though, at each point the Torah says (33:1-12) that they “traveled from A and camped at B. They traveled from B and camped at C”, when it could have saved words and simply said that they camped at A, B, and C?

    Commentaries help us understand this by explaining that the forty years that the Jews spent in the desert was filled with spiritual growth, and the “travels” represented that growth. The Torah attests to the fact that not only did the Jews travel to point A, but they camped/grew there. The lesson for us is simple and true: If you want to “travel” through Torah growth, make sure you not only travel along a solid path, but make sure you “camp” at every stage, and make sure you’re comfortable with it, before you move onto another level. For example, you can’t jump to Kaballah (mysticism) before you know Halacha (law) and Talmud. There’s a  process that requires “camping” at every step of the way. So before we venture off to see the wonderful sites the Torah has to offer, make sure you take a road map (Torah), a guide (Rabbi), and patience. Only then will you truly enjoy the ride.

  • Dvar for Matot-Maasei (Numbers 30:2-36:13)

    After Moshe lost an entire generation of Jews because they resisted entering the land of Israel, in Parshat Matot they seem to be doing the exact same thing. As they prepare to enter the land, the shevatim (tribes) of Reuven and Gad approach Moshe with a similar request. This time they claim to want to “build for their flocks and cities for the small children” (32:16). After warning them not to make the same mistake as the previous generation, Moshe agrees to let them live outside of the Promised Land, but appears to bargain with them by getting them to agree to help the others fight for the land first. Why did Moshe agree to let them live outside of the promised land, and what did he bargain for?

    A closer inspection of the dialogue helps us answer these questions, and can help us understand the importance of setting priorities. When Moshe responds to them (32:24), he tells them to “build for yourselves cities for your small children and pens for your flocks”, exactly the opposite order in which they asked. What Moshe was really telling them was that if they’re really looking out for the well-being of their children, then look after them (i.e. their perspectives) before building yourselves cities and buildings. This can also be why he allowed them to settle outside the Land altogether: Moshe understood that it wasn’t that the tribes lacked faith in their destiny, because they were willing to fight for it with everyone else, but rather that from their perspective living right outside the Land would be better for them logistically. Being able to accept other perspectives, despite initial fears and uncertainties, is the true test of being a thoughtful Jew, a positive parent and an understanding person.

  • Daily Aliya for Matot, Shvii (7th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: Moshe accepts the offer of the Reuvenites and Gaddites, and informs Joshua and Elazar the High Priest of the agreement. These two tribes, along with half of the tribe of Menashe settle on the eastern bank of the Jordan, and conquer many of the areas wherein they encountered opposition.

    Communications, especially among leaders, is critically important, as Moshe demonstrates. It avoid misunderstandings, resentment, and negative reactions (even short-lived negative reactions have potential to cause damage).

  • Daily Aliya for Matot, Shishi (6th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: The tribes of Reuven and Gad owned lots of cattle. Seeing that the eastern bank of the Jordan — the lands of Sichon and Og which they had just conquered — had abundant pasture, they asked Moshe if they could remain and settle on the eastern bank. Moshe angrily responds that they are following in the footsteps of the spies who were fearful of the Canaanites, did not want to enter the land of Israel, and discouraged the entire nation from doing so. The Reuvenites and Gaddites respond that they will leave their cattle and families behind in fortified cities, and all their men will proceed into Israel with their brethren and lead them in the conquest of the land. Only after all the land has been conquered and settled would they return to the other side of the Jordan.

    The actions of these tribes (that of fighting with their brethren) helped prove to Moshe and everyone that their intention wasn’t to disengage from the people, but merely a practical solution to having so much cattle. This proved appropriate and effective, and is an effective method of leading: with action, not words.

  • Daily Aliya for Matot, Chamishi (5th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: From the other portion of the spoils, the half divided among the rest of the Israelites, 1/50 was given to the Levites. The army officers count the soldiers who returned from battle, and determine that not a single man was lost in the war. To show gratitude to G‑d for this miracle, the officers donate to the Tabernacle all the gold jewelry which they personally plundered from the Midianites.

  • Daily Aliya for Matot, Revii (4th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: The spoils of the war were evenly divided between the soldiers and the greater community. From the portion of the spoils given to the soldiers, a tithe of 1/500 was given to Elazar the High Priest.

  • Dvar for Matot (Numbers 30:2-32:42)

    “There was much livestock belonging to Bnei (the children of) Reuven and Bnei Gad – very much… Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven came and said to Moshe…” (32:1) These two tribes asked Moshe if they could remain in the rich pasture lands on the east side of the Jordan River rather than cross the Jordan to dwell in Israel proper.  The Kli Yakar (cited in Talelei Orot) notes that in describing this request, Bnei Gad are mentioned first, as if they were the leaders of the delegation.  Reuven was Yaakov’s first born son and his tribe was one of the more prominent; they should have led the delegation.  Why did Bnei Gad take the lead?

    Kli Yakar says that the answer can be found in the first verse we cited.  Both tribes had abundant livestock, but Bnei Gad had “very much” – the last two words refer back only to them and not to both tribes.  However, the reason they took the lead was not because they had more of a need for pasture land as a result of a greater number of sheep.  Rather, their superior wealth engendered a perception of superior importance:  Reuven was the first born?  Doesn’t matter, we are richer and hence we should speak first.  Kli Yakar explains that this is an unfortunate but common tendency.  People, especially the wealthy, often believe that wealth automatically confers great status and is more meaningful than other standards.  The Torah is warning us against this mentality, which is a risk in our time, just as it was back then.
  • Daily Aliya for Matot, Shlishi (3rd Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: Moshe is enraged that the Midianite females were spared. “They were the primary culprits; the ones who seduced the Israelites and brought about the plague which killed so many!” Moshe exclaimed. All the males and all women who possibly could have been involved in the campaign of seduction were killed. The soldiers are then instructed how to purify themselves from the ritual impurity they contracted from contact with corpses in the course of battle. They are also told how to kosher the food utensils which were among the spoils.

    In addition to the main rebuke that Moshe gives Reuven and Gad, there is a more subtle rebuke on another issue. The tribes offer to build corrals for their flocks and homes for their children. Later, when Moshe gives them permission to establish themselves on the east bank, he tells tham to build homes for their children and accommodations for their animals. Your children go first, and only THEN your property.

  • Daily Aliya for Matot, Sheni (2nd Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: The Israelites are commanded to exact revenge from the Midianites for their part in seducing Jewish men to sin (described in the end of the Torah reading of Balak, Numbers 25). A 12,000-strong army of Israelites, led by Pinchas, waged battle against Midian. All adult Midianite males were killed, along with Balaam and Midian’s five kings. The women, children, and battle spoils are brought back to the Israelite encampment.

    Rashi explains that the reason why revenge is to be taken against the Midianites and not the Moavites, even though they both attacked us, is because the Moavites attacked out of fear of being attacked by the Jews, while the Midianites attacked unprovoked. The same actions are treated and understood differently, and treated differently, based purely on intent. We all judge others based on their actions, but G-d judges us based on our intent, too.

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