Parshyiot Mattot-Masei 5783

July 10, 2023

Rabbi Mitchell Blank ('21)

In this week’s parashah, Moses recounts the starting points of each of the places visited by the Israelites during their 40 year trek on the way to the Promised Land. “Moses recorded the starting points as directed by the Lord (al pi Adonai )”. (Num. 33:2) For what purpose is God’s command for Moses to catalogue each station encountered as the journey nears completion and why davka by their starting points? Moses has been intimately involved in the entire journey, especially from the moment the Israelites broke camp on the 20th day of the 2nd year. (Num. 10:11) It’s not as if he needs to record the stations to remember the journey. All the treks from that point on were conducted in an intimate partnership between Moses and the Divine: “On a sign from the Lord (al pi Adonai) they made camp and on a sign from the Lord they broke camp; they observed the...

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Parashiyot Mattot-Masei 5781

July 9, 2021

Click HERE for an audio recording of this D’var Torah A D’var Torah for Parashiyot Mattot-Masei By Rabbi Lizz Goldstein (’16) Hodesh Tov. The height of summer is upon us, and with it three weeks of mourning bookended by fasting during a season we most need to be drinking plenty of fluids. I have written elsewhere before about my ambivalence over Tisha B’Av and the Three Weeks, and this year is no different. This Shabbat, we read the second of three Haftarot of Affliction, along with Parashiyot Mattot-Masei. These Haftarot admonish the Israelites for their constant idol-worship and warns of the conquering army on its way to punish them. This cycle of community dissolution and rejection of HaShem, followed by destruction and diaspora, continued in the days of the Second Temple, and so we read them in the oppressive heat of summer to remember the fall of both Temples and...

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Parashat Mattot & Ma’sey 5780

July 17, 2020

  A D’var Torah for Parashat Mattot By Rabbi Matthew Goldstone Our Torah portion this week teaches us not to promise what we cannot deliver: “If a person makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath imposing an obligation upon themself, they shall not break the pledge; they must carry out all that crossed their lips” (Num. 30:3). Despite the warning, many people make commitments that they do not end up fulfilling or give assurances for things they never intend to uphold. No wonder there is a strong tradition against taking oaths. We find this attitude in the rabbinic legal tradition when the major 16th century code of law, the Shulhan Arukh, states “Do not be accustomed to making vows and whoever vows – even if they fulfill it – is called a wicked person and is called a sinner” (Yoreh Deah 203:1). And fulfilling an oath might be...

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Parashat Matot-Masei 5779

August 2, 2019

A D’var Torah for Parashat Matot-Masei By Rabbi Jill Hammer, PhD This week we have a double parashah: Matot-Masei. The name of Parashat Matot means staffs (as in big sticks). A staff is a sign of authority, and this parashah is full of reflections on tribal and patriarchal authority. As it moves through its various narratives, the parashah demonstrates how small acts of violence can lead to larger ones. The parashah opens with an explanation of the practice of nedarim or vows. This was an important Israelite practice that was open to laypeople, not only clergy. The making and keeping of a vow—such as a vow to become a nazirite and not cut your hair, or Hannah’s vow to give Samuel to the Temple—was a kind of offering practice.  It was a way of showing devotion to God and often of showing gratitude for some personal abundance or miraculous intervention one had received. However, this vowing...

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Mattot/Massei 5778

July 12, 2018

A D’var Torah for Mattot/Massei by Rabbi Heidi Hoover (AJR ’11) In this week’s Torah portion, Mattot/Massei, we have a remarkable episode. Two tribes, Reuben and Gad, look around the land where they Israelites are staying before they enter the Promised Land. They see that the land where they are is good for cattle, and they are cattle-herders. They decide this is the land they want, instead of the allotment of land they’ve been promised in Canaan. What is surprising about this portion is that we’ve taken it for granted ever since the Exodus that what the Israelites really want is to get to the Promised Land. That was the destination after the Exodus. During the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness they’ve just been waiting for the opportunity to get into the Promised Land. Or so we would think. Then along comes this passage where two tribes go...

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