Mas’ei: Rabbi Abraham

By Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum

Parshas MAS’EI: Numbers 33:1-36:13.

Already in MATOS when Moses castigated the Sons of Reuven and Gad with being like the Ten Spies, the theme of Moses’ reproof enters the Torah, and it continues in MAS’EY and in the book of Deuteronomy. After the events of the forty years wandering, which we have studied in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, the time has come to begin to review the lessons and reduce them to their essentials.

MAS’EY begins with a review of the forty years wandering. On the surface, the list of encampments and journeyings seems prosaic. However, the second Targum on the Torah, that of Rabbi Yonasan ben Uziel, disciple of Hillel, fills in much of the moral significance of the different staging posts in those difficult years, showing that the list itself is a form of reproof. It teaches us that there are times when we must look back, review and draw conclusions and lessons from the past. This is particularly necessary when we stand on the brink of new challenges, as in the case of the Children of Israel, who stood poised to conquer the Land.

Included in the account of the wanderings is a reference to the death of Aaron the High Priest, specifying the date of his ascent to the mountain to die — the first day of the fifth month, which is the month of Av. This is a reminder to us that the present year is beginning to draw to a close, with only two months to go before the Day of Judgment, Rosh HaShanah, the New Year. As we proceed in the period of Repentance (the Three Weeks, followed by Elul and Tishri) we should take time to review our lives and reflect on where we are trying to go. This way we will be prepared for the challenges of the coming year — the Conquest of the Land.

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Parshas MAS’EY provides the detailed topography of the boundaries of the Land of Israel, prefixed by G-d’s commandment to the Children of Israel to destroy all the evil influences in the Land to make it a place fit for the exalted mission instituted by the Fathers of the World, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For Israel, with Jerusalem at its center and its eternal capital, is to be the source of Torah and Light for all the nations. “For the Torah will go forth from Zion and the Word of HaShem from Yerushalayim”. The Torah warns clearly that unless all the evil influences are removed from the Land, they will be “like pins in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they will persecute you over the land in which you are dwelling” (Numbers 33:55).

The Boundaries of the Land are given as a COMMANDMENT (Numbers 34:2). While nobody doubts that the true Land of Israel includes all the territories west of the River Jordan, few are aware of where the southern and northern borders of the biblical Promised Land actually are.

The final settlement of Israel as prophesied in Ezekiel 47:13-21 completely defies all present-day conceptions in the political and diplomatic arenas and in the mass media of the settlement Israel is currently being pressured into accepting. (A map from Atlas Da’at Mikra published by Mosad HaRav Kook in Jerusalem (p. 325) may be seen at The true boundaries of the Land stretch from the eastern arm of the Nile delta up north to the Turkish city of Antakya (Antiochia) north of 36 degrees Lat. N. The mountain spur above Antakya is HOR HA-HAR, Mount Hor mentioned in Numbers 34:8 as the northern point of Israel’s Mediterranean border. Any “settlement” that does not take this into account is doomed to ultimate failure, for “the G-d’s counsel is what will stand” (Proverbs 19:21).

Of course the Land will only become Israel’s without contest when Israel will fulfill its part of the Conditions of G-d’s Covenant to give them the Land. (The section in MATOS about the Conditions with which Moses bound the Sons of Reuven and Gad is also a lesson about Conditions, to which Moses returns again and again in his discourses in Deuteronomy: “If you will do this. and if you will not.”)

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Since the Levites did not have a share in the Land, they were given forty-two cities of their own up and down the Land together with all the necessary surrounding areas. The Levitical Cities indicate the distinctive nature of the Land of Israel in contrast to all other lands. It’s social geography is centered upon a network of cities where people are free from the immediate requirement to make a living (the Levites received tithes) in order to devote themselves to the study and teaching of G-d’s Law. Thus everyone in the Land is always near a center of study and near to someone they can ask for guidance.

The Torah’s abhorrence for killing and murder is expressed in the portion that gives the laws of unintentional manslaughter and deliberate murder (Numbers 35:9ff). Not only has our world become desensitized to language, as discussed above. It has also been desensitized to the evil of killing and murder, which are openly celebrated be terrorists as “religious acts”, while the TV and movies provide an endless diet of violence to the population.

The spilling of blood is a crime against the Land, and the holiness of the Land of Israel will only shine again when we can cleanse ourselves of this terrible scourge and re-establish the Law of the Torah, which outshines and transcends all manmade laws. The Torah not only teaches the evil of killing and murder but has no compunction about imposing all necessary sanctions in order to eliminate them, including the death penalty. Even one who had committed an unintentional manslaughter had to hide himself away from the rest of society in a city of refuge, unlike today, where killers with blood on their hands are released from jail and celebrated as heroes.

“And you shall not pollute the Land in which you dwell that I dwell in its midst, for I am HaSheM dwelling among the Children of Israel” (Numbers 35:34). Speedily in our days. Amen.

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