Mattot-Mase’ei (Numbers 30:2 – 36:13)

First, the answers to last week’s bonus questions:

  1. What verses in this (i.e., last week’s) haftarah from Jeremiah appear in the liturgy, and where do they appear? Jeremiah 2:2 has become part of the Rosh Hashanah liturgy, one of the Zichronot (Remembrance) Verses in the Musaf service: “I remember for your sake the kindness of your youth, your love as a bride–How you followed Me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.”
  2. The single verse of the Torah that is read most often in the annual Torah reading schedule (other than “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying”) occurs in this portion. What is it? Numbers 28:3. The reading for Rosh Chodesh, when it’s on a weekday, is 28:1-15, and 28:3 is read in both the 1st and 2nd aliyot (no, I don’t know why).  So, for example, 28:3 this year is read once for Pinchas and, if I counted correctly, 15×2=30 times for Rosh Chodesh (several months have 2 days for Rosh Chodesh).

This week, we finish the book of Numbers with a very long double-portion, 112+132=244 verses.  It’s made up of several chunks of middling interest, all aimed at readying the people for life in the Promised Land.  First, we read instructions regarding. A man simply makes a vow and fulfills it.  For a woman, it’s more complicated (isn’t it always more complicated?), since her father or husband may have different degrees of authority over her depending on her age, marital status, whether the vow was taken before or after she married, etc., etc.   

Next, the Israelites are commanded to carry out a war against the Midianites (Numbers 31:2) to avenge the incident of Baal Peor (Numbers 25:1-9). in a manner that today would be called ethnic cleansing.  Only young, virgin girls are not massacred.  A great deal of Midianite loot remains for the Israelites, even after the portions that are set aside for dedication to the Lord. 

The tribes of Reuben and Gad have a lot of livestock, likely some from the Midian war (Midrash, Or HaChaim).  Joined by Manasseh, they find the lands of Jazer and Gilead so suitable for ranching that they ask to stay there, instead of crossing into the Promised Land.  Moses answers in a temperate fashion, negotiating an agreement that, in exchange, they will be in the front lines of battles to take the Land.  But you can imagine what Moses was thinking.  He couldn’t even enter the Land, and these people are cavalierly rejecting settlement there?

That was Mattot.

In Ma’asei, which starts at 33:1, we are treated to the Israelites’ itinerary for the past 40 years.  14 pairs of verses are chanted to the melody used for the Song at the [Re(e)d] Sea, basically “they journeyed from A and encamped at B” without embellishment.  The borders of the land are then described and the leaders of the nation and tribes named.  The Levite cities are defined (remember, they don’t get a section of land), including open area, fields, and vineyards.  Speaking of cities, 6 cities of refuge, 3 on each side of the Jordan, are established to protect those who kill someone unintentionally, and laws concerning them are set.

The Book of Numbers ends with another wrinkle to the story of the daughters of Zelophehad.  Laws always beget more laws.  There is always an unforeseen consequence after a law is enacted.  The legal system must be responsive to new situations and to new understanding of existing situations.  Here, the men of Manasseh realize that the borders of the designated tribal lands will be scrambled if the daughters marry outside the tribe and take their inheritance with them.  The solution: the daughters of Zelophehad are to marry within their tribe, and so they duly marry their cousins. 

Next week, we begin Deuteronomy, Moses’ month-long valedictory to the Israelites.

Shabbat shalom,


tph prometheus-wedding-vows


[We will be going on vacation in a couple of weeks, and our plans were greatly influenced by a desire to avoid air travel.]
tph kangaroo


The Question

The Old Professor poses the following problem to one of his classes:

“A wealthy man dies and leaves ten million dollars. One-fifth is to go to his daughter, one-fifth is to go to his son, one-sixth to his brother, and the rest to his wife. Now, what does each get?”

After a very long silence in the classroom, Little Pauly raises his hand and says, “A lawyer?”


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Quotes about Laws

I like the idea that we build up these walls or rules or laws to maintain our reality, and when they fall away, you’re left with a whole bunch of illusions. Smoke and mirrors. Sarah McLachlan

We shouldn’t have to be burdened with all the technicalities that come up from time to time with shrewd, smart lawyers interpreting what the laws or what the Constitution may or may not say. Dan Quayle

To retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch them in the making. Otto von Bismarck

It ain’t no sin if you crack a few laws now and then, just so long as you don’t break any. Mae West



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