Mattot-Masei (Numbers 30:2- 36:13)

It’s August.  I am grouchy.  People in our increasingly mean and cruel government continue to get away with ignoring subpoenas and court orders and even their own rules, destroying the hopes of refugees, scarring children emotionally for life, breaking the law with impunity, appointing blatantly unqualified people to senior positions, destroying valuable and productive R&D labs and suppressing data.  And I grow increasingly pessimistic.

But, since it’s August, I can escape, to a degree, into the amusements offered by Turner Classic Movies’ annual Summer Under the Stars, featuring one actor a day.  And there are various loose ends to take care of before September, like registering for OLLI classes (done), getting my car inspected, and going on vacation.

Loose ends abound in this week’s double Torah portion, Mattot-Masei, with which we end the book of Numbers. To start with, we learn about annulling vows, which were taken very seriously once upon a time.  As is often the case in the Torah, the instructions are straightforward for men and complicated for women, depending on her age and marital status (i.e., what man, if any, is in charge – father, husband, or none).

Then the Israelites are commanded to carry out one of those uncomfortably brutal wars we find difficult to accept, this time a war against the Midianites to avenge the Baal Peor incident (Bil’am dies here).

Then, the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half of the tribe of Manasseh decide they’d rather not cross the Jordan into the Promised Land. They have a lot of livestock, and the land where they are now is especially good for grazing. Moses grants their request, but they must not only send men to help conquer the land, but those men must fight in the front lines.  I usually imagine Moses gnashing his teeth when he hears they want to turn down the one thing he can’t have. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has described this episode as a model of negotiation and conflict resolution. That takes care of Parashat Mattot.

In Masei, we finally fill in some of those blank 38+ years of wandering, with a travelogue, a list of all the places the Israelites went to after they left Egypt.  Not all the place names are recognizable, and there is little description of events.

More instructions from the Lord:  Destroy the Canaanite presence. These are your defined borders.  Divide the land among tribes by lot.  Establish cities surrounded by open land for the Levites. Establish also cities of refuge to protect those guilty of manslaughter from their victims’ avenging relatives.

The last incident in Numbers is a re-examination of the decision granting Zelophehad’s land portion to his daughters.  A wrinkle has been identified, as usually happens whenever there is a legal decision. If a daughter were to marry outside her tribe, Manasseh, she would take her inherited land portion to the other tribe.  The solution: the daughters have to marry within the tribe. And they do indeed marry their cousins.

The haftarah this week is Jeremiah 2:4-28, plus either 3:4 (Ashkenazim) or 4:1-2 (Sephardim and Chabad Chassidim) to ensure that the haftarah ends on a positive note.  It is the second of the three Haftarot of Rebuke preceding Tisha B’Av and continues where last week’s left off.

Today is the first of Av.  From now until Tisha B’Av (the 9th of Av, observed this year on the 10th, the 9th being Shabbat), a period referred to as the Nine Days, the mourning customs of the Three Weeks are heightened to help us get into the right mood. The “black fast” of Tisha B’Av is the anniversary of the destruction of the First and Second Temples and, traditionally, several of the many other disasters that have befallen the Jewish people

Next week: a new book and more recaps.

Shabbat shalom,


Steve Martin’s Non-Conformist Oath   Posted by: Mike Whitmore | May 28, 2010

STEVE MARTIN: Let’s repeat the Non-Conformist Oath. I promise to be different!

AUDIENCE: I promise to be different.

STEVE MARTIN: I promise to be unique.

AUDIENCE: I promise to be unique.

STEVE MARTIN: I promise not to repeat things other people say.

AUDIENCE: I promise … [Dissolves into nervous laughter.]


Perhaps too many people had their brains baking in the sun for longer than the recommended time….

These Are Actual Complaints Received by “Thomas Cook Vacations” From Dissatisfied Customers:

8.“No-one told us there would be fish in the water. The children were scared.”
12.“It took us nine hours to fly home from Jamaica to England. It took the Americans only three hours to get home. This seems unfair.”
13. “I compared the size of our one-bedroom suite to our friends’ three-bedroom and ours was significantly smaller.”
15.“When we were in Spain, there were too many Spanish people there. The receptionist spoke Spanish, the food was Spanish. No one told us that there would be so many foreigners.”


On 1 Foot

Parshas Mattos

Reuven/Gad/.5 Menashe: Let’s move to the suburbs

Jews begin tradition of moving to the suburbs


Parshas Maasei

Jews: Are we there yet?



Why You Should Marry Your Third Cousin (excerpts)

by Sam Greenspan
last updated March 22, 2018 · originally written September 7, 2016

A study finds why marrying a close-but-not-too-close cousin is the right move.

It’s legal in all 50 states to marry a cousin who’s your second cousin or further. But according to a new study out of the University of Iceland in Reykjavik, it’s not just legal, it’s smart. The researchers found your third or fourth cousin isn’t just safe to marry — they’re your ideal partner.

You avoid the inbreeding risks of closer cousins, but your genes are just close enough that they naturally work well together. And as a result, marriages between third and fourth cousins produce more children and grandchildren than other couples. (And) your third or fourth cousins are juuust close enough that dating one will be at least a somewhat rebellious gesture against your parents.

And finally, here are some notable people who’ve married their third cousins: John Adams… Charles Darwin’s grandparents (and then Darwin married his first cousin)… Queen Elizabeth II… Rudy Giuliani… Thomas Jefferson… Robert E. Lee… and Jerry Lee Lewis.


An odd political problem in Colorado

Cattle has long been the number one agricultural product of Colorado, but the recent legalization of marijuana is causing significant and unforeseen problems.

Apparently, cows love marijuana as much as people, and cattle ranches and nearby marijuana farms are on the brink of open warfare. Cows keep breaking down fences and eating entire crops of marijuana, so the growers are suing the ranchers for damages. At the same time, cattle ranchers are counter-suing the marijuana growers for damaging THEIR product, since consuming even a small amount of marijuana ruins the flavor of both beef and milk.

Tensions are running extremely high, and the political fallout could be extreme. In addition to the lawsuits, both sides are gathering signatures for ballot measures to limit the other group’s ability to retaliate. It’s an incredibly important issue for the entire state, threatening the entire future of either Colorado’s historic beef industry or its new but rapidly-growing marijuana industry. The economic impact is unprecedented, and the political, social, and legal fallout will likely affect the entire nation.

Basically, the steaks have never been higher.


tph conflict resolution resized


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1 Response to Mattot-Masei (Numbers 30:2- 36:13)

  1. Pingback: Shoftim (Deut. 16:18 – 21:9) | Torah Portion Humor Weekly

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