Parashat Matot-Masei / פרשת מטות־מסעי (Numbers 30:2-36:13; Jeremiah 2:4-28; 4:1,2)
In this week’s Torah reading we see that the laws of N’darim (vows) are explained – each individual must fulfill the vow he or she has made – or be absolved therefrom.
YHWH then told Moses that revenge was to be taken against Midianites, and Moses had the tribes each choose a thousand warriors to do battle with the enemy. They vanquished the Midianites, slaying their five kings who had formed an alliance against Israel – and also Balaam, the astrologer-prophet who had sought Israel’s downfall.
All the metal implements and valuables that were captured had to undergo a process of purification, with both fire and water, while other merchandise, which could not withstand fire, was cleansed with water alone. The soldiers, too, had to remain outside the camp for a week and undergo the regular purification ritual together with their captives.
The spoils were then divided in half – one-half for the soldiers and one-half for the rest of the congregation. A percentage of the first half was given to the Cohanim, and a percentage of the other half to the Leviyim.
The chiefs of the army then brought a Terumah of the gold that had been captured to the Tabernacle.
The tribes of Reuben, Gad, and part of the tribe of Manasseh, had large flocks and herds, and they desired to settle in the lands they had taken from Sichon, king of the Emorites, and Og, king of Bashan. They were permitted to do so, with the understanding that their able-bodied men were to assist in the conquest of Canaan on the other side of the Jordan – after which they could return tot he lands they desired, and these were to be their inheritance.
The Sedrah of Masei begins with the itinerary of the Israelites in the wilderness – their forty years of wandering from Ramses to the plains of Moab at the Jordan.
Then YHWH again told Moses that the land of Canaan was to be divided among the tribes by lot. The boundaries of the land of Israel were to be specified in detail, and Leazar the High Priest and Yehoshua ben Nun were designated to supervise the distribution of the land, assisted by a prince from each tribe. Forty-two cities were to be given to the Leviyim by the tribes, in addition to six cities of refuge (Orei Miklat) – sanctuaries for individuals who killed someone accidentally – to be governed by the Leviyim. Three such cities were to be on each side of the Jordan. The laws concerning who were permitted to find sanctuary in these cities were then outlined.
The Sedrah concludes with the story of the five daughters of Zelaphchad who were the heiresses of their father’s inheritance in the Promised Land – and who married men of their own tribe, thus establishing the rule that protected each tribe’s property in the Land of Israel.