Mattot-Mase’ei (Numbers 30:2 – 36:13)

With this double portion, we end the book of Numbers.  This is really the end of the Israelites’ journey as well, since Deuteronomy is Moses’ month-long valedictory.  Here, the Israelites continue to tie up loose ends and promote order over chaos:  setting borders, reviewing history, waging one more war, designating cities to be built, and dealing with legal complications concerning women.

Mattot (Num. 30:2 – 32:42) begins with laws concerning vows.  If a man makes a vow, he fulfills it.  That takes up one verse, 30:3.  The laws for women occupy the next 14 verses.  [As in so many legal considerations, man=the normal case, woman=the exception.] The concern is who is responsible for the fulfillment of a woman’s vow and under what circumstances can her father or husband revoke it.  A widow or divorcee is responsible for her vow, like a man.

Moses’ last war, against the Midianites, also concerns women, since it is vengeance for the Midianite women’s seduction of the Israelite men for orgies and Baal worship.  The Lord orders Moses to wage this war and adds that it will be time for him to die afterwards.  Nonetheless, Moses does not delay.

One would expect that the Israelites would be rallying together by now, in excited anticipation of entering Canaan.  After all, they’re on the banks of the Jordan now.  But cracks are appearing in the nascent nation, tribal priorities that take precedence over the Israelites as a whole.  The tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh have a lot of livestock and decide they’d rather not cross the Jordan but instead settle in Jazer and Gilead, very suitable country for their livestock.  Moses, no doubt gnashing his teeth, allows this in exchange for the tribes’ agreement to provide the shock troops for conquering the Promised Land.

Mase’ei (Num. 33:1 – 36:13) opens with a review of the journeys of the Israelites after they left Egypt.  It reads like the itinerary of one of those if-it’s-Tuesday-this-must-be-Tel -Aviv tours.  There are 42 encampments, 14 in the first 2 years (pre-spies), 8 after Aaron’s death in the 40th year, and 20 during the middle 38 or so years, when the Israelites were able to stay put for close to 2 years per encampment.

Next, the borders of the Promised Land are defined and new tribal leaders are named.  Cities are to be built for the Levites, who have no land of their own; and 6 cities of refuge (3 on each side of the Jordan) to protect an unintentional killer from the vengeance of the victim’s family.

The book of Numbers ends with a reappearance of the daughters of Zelophehad of the tribe of Manasseh: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah.  A wrinkle has arisen because 1) laws always develop unforeseen wrinkles and 2) this concerns women.  The leaders of the tribe have realized that, if a daughter were to marry outside the tribe, the land she’d inherited will go with her and Manasseh would lose that land from their allocation.  The solution: the daughter should marry within the tribe.  And so, the daughters of Zelophehad married their cousins.

Why do we end Numbers with a prosaic legal discussion about an unusual situation that, according to the Talmud (Bava Batra 120a), applied only to that single generation?  Rabbi Mordechai Joseph Leiner of Isbitza (1802-1854) wrote that the point of the Torah is to understand the will of God within the context of the particular historical moment, “in order to let Israel understand that details emerge from the Torah at all times, at each moment…to let human beings understand what the blessed God wants of us now, and to do it” (as cited by Shai Cherry in Torah Through Time: Understanding Bible Commentary from the Rabbinic Period, 2010, p. 182).  Alternatively, I view this ending as an illustration of how the Israelites are finally able to address new issues using a settled legal process and deal with unexpected consequences successfully, like a civilized society.  A hopeful note on which to end this book.

Shabbat shalom


A High Court ruling in 2013 in Botswana gave four elderly women the right to inherit their father’s property over the claims of a nephew.  Read about it in “Lessons of Tselofehad Resound in Modern-Day Botswana” (Betsy Teutsch,, July 10, 2015).


Why Americans Should Never Be Allowed To Travel

The following are actual stories provided by travel agents:

A woman called and asked, “Do airlines put your physical description on your bag so they know whose luggage belongs to who?” I said, “No, why do you ask?” She replied, “Well, when I checked in with the airline, they put a tag on my luggage that said FAT, and I’m overweight, is there any connection?” After putting her on hold for a minute while I “looked into it” (I was actually laughing) I came back and explained the city code for Fresno is FAT, and that the airline was just putting a destination tag on her luggage.

I just got off the phone with a man who asked, “How do I know which plane to get on?” I asked him what exactly he meant, which he replied, “I was told my flight number is 823, but none of these darn planes have numbers on them.”

A woman called and said, “I need to fly to Pepsi-cola on one of those computer planes.” I asked if she meant to fly to Pensacola on a commuter plane. She said, “Yeah, whatever.”

A woman called to make reservations, “I want to go from Chicago to Hippopotamus, New York” The agent was at a loss for words. Finally, the agent: “Are you sure that’s the name of the town?” “Yes, what flights do you have?” replied the customer. After some searching, the agent came back with, “I’m sorry, ma’am, I’ve looked up every airport code in the country and can’t find a Hippopotamus anywhere.” The customer retorted, “Oh don’t be silly. Everyone knows where it is. Check your map!” The agent scoured a map of the state of New York and finally offered, “You don’t mean Buffalo, do you?” “That’s it! I knew it was a big animal!”


A man at the airline counter tells the rep. “I’d like this bag to go to Berlin, this one to California, and this one to London.
The rep says, “I’m sorry sir. We can’t do that.”
The man replied: Nonsense. That is what you did last time I flew with you.

A man went to the airline counter. The ticket agent asked, “Sir, do you have reservations?” He replied, “Reservations? Of course I have reservations, but I’m flying anyway.”


Rancher John

Old ranch owner John farmed a small ranch in Montana.  The Montana Wage and Hour Department claimed he was not paying proper wages to his workers and sent an agent out to interview him.

‘I need a list of your employees and how much you pay them,’ demanded the agent.

‘Well,’ replied old John, ‘There’s my ranch hand who’s been with me for 3 years. I pay him $600 a week plus free room and board. The cook has been here for 18 months, and I pay her $500 a week plus free room and board. Then there’s the half-wit who works about 18 hours every day and does about 90% of all the work around here. He makes about $10 per week, pays his own room and board and I buy him a bottle of bourbon every Saturday night.’

‘That’s the guy I want to talk to, the half-wit,’ says the agent.

‘That would be me,’ replied old rancher John.


10 Unbelievable Inheritance Stories

1.     The Portuguese aristocrat who left his fortune to 70 total strangers randomly chosen from a phone directory

Luis Carlos de Noronha Cabral da Camara made an unusual distribution of his money after his death: 70 people listed in a Lisbon phone directory were contacted out of the blue after his death to be told he had made them his beneficiaries. They had been chosen at random from the directory, in front of two witnesses at a registry office 13 years before. It certainly came as a shock to them. In the first place, people do not, as a rule, make wills in Portugal.  In the second, Portuguese aristocrats are getting thin on the ground, let alone eccentric ones. In the third – to be chosen by phone directory? No wonder that some feared they were being scammed. (Source)


Man seeks refuge from his children

tph carl-rose-man-is-seeking-refuge-from-his-children-inside-their-playpen-new-yorker-cartoon


State Laws Regarding Marriages Between First Cousins(We were always told that Great-aunt Hattie and Uncle Ef (short for Ephraim) had to get married in New Jersey instead of Philadelphia because Pennsylvania forbade marriages between first cousins.  That was in 1913, and I’ve been curious to see what it’s like today. IGP)

Twenty-five states prohibit marriages between first cousins. Six states allow first cousin marriage under certain circumstances, and North Carolina allows first cousin marriage but prohibits double-cousin marriage. States generally recognize marriages of first cousins married in a state where such marriages are legal.


Cousin marriage legal First cousin marriage prohibited Allowed under certain circumstances**
Alabama Arkansas Arizona
Alaska Delaware Illinois
California Idaho Indiana
Colorado Iowa Maine
Connecticut Kansas Utah
District of Columbia Kentucky Wisconsin
Florida Louisiana
Georgia Michigan
Hawaii Minnesota
Maryland Mississippi
Massachusetts Missouri
New Mexico Montana
New York Nebraska
North Carolina* Nevada
Rhode Island New Hampshire
South Carolina North Dakota
Tennessee Ohio
Vermont Oklahoma
Virginia Oregon
South Dakota
West Virginia

* North Carolina- First cousin marriage is legal. Double cousin marriage is prohibited (I have no idea what that means.  IGP).

**First cousin marriage is allowed in these states under the following circumstances:

Arizona- if both are 65 or older, or one is unable to reproduce.

Illinois- if both are 50 or older, or one is unable to reproduce.

Indiana- if both are at least 65.

Maine- if couple obtains a physician’s certificate of genetic counseling.

Utah- if both are 65 or older, or if both are 55 or older and one is unable to reproduce.

Wisconsin- if the woman is 55 or older, or one is unable to reproduce.


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