42/43. MATTOT/MAS’EY 5780


Numbers 30:2-36:13

The annual reading of the Book of Numbers draws to a close with this week’s double Sedra of Mattot and Mas’ey.  The founding human leadership of Israel’s wilderness epoch has started to pass from the scene.  Alongside their mediation of Divine instruction to the people, the first Sedra Mattot opens with the seriousness of self-made commitments by all men and women.  Then, justice for Midian is conducted under the shadow of Moses’s inevitable demise, but the war account also gives us insight into the Torah’s view of survival.  The second Sedra Mas’ey opens with a detailed review of the journeys that brought the Children of Israel to their current position, and, finally, in anticipation of the ultimate conquest of the Land, attention is focused on its boundaries, apportionment, sanctity, and juridical function.

Self-made Commitments:
Binding and Unbinding


Moses imparts to the chiefs of the tribes (Mattot) of the Children of Israel this law which the Eternal commanded:  If a man makes a vow to the Eternal or takes an oath to impose an obligation upon himself, he shall not violate his word; he must uphold whatever comes out of his mouth.


These are the laws which the Eternal commanded Moses between a man and his wife and between a father and his minor daughter in her father’s house:

If a woman makes a vow to the Eternal or takes an oath to impose an obligation upon herself, as a minor in her father’s house, and her father hears of it and does not object, her vows or her obligation shall stand.  But if her father forbids her when he hears of it, it shall not stand.  The Eternal will forgive her because her father forbade her.

If she should marry while her vows or her sworn obligation is upon her, and her husband hears of it and does not object when he hears of it, then her vows or her obligation shall stand.  But if her husband forbids her when he hears of it, then her husband has voided her vow or her obligation, and the Eternal will forgive her.

If she should make a vow or take an oath to impose an obligation upon herself while in her husband’s house, and her husband hears of it and does not object, then her vows or her obligation shall stand.  But if her husband voids them when he hears of it, then whatever vows or obligation she has uttered will not stand, and the Eternal will forgive her.  Her husband may uphold or void any vow or sworn obligation to afflict herself: if he does not object from day to day, he has upheld them because he did not object when he heard of it; if he would void them sometime after he hears of it, then he shall bear her guilt.

The vow or sworn obligation of a widow or divorced woman shall stand.

Management of Reprisal


The Eternal charges Moses: “Seek vengeance for the Children of Israel from the Midianites, then you shall be gathered to your people.” (31:2)  So Moses orders the people to prepare for war, to seek the Eternal’s revenge against Midian, a thousand from each of the twelve tribes.  Moses sends 12,000 men to war together with Pinchas son of Elazar the Priest, equipped with the sacred implements and military trumpets.  They attack Midian and kill every male, including the five kings of Midian: Evi, Rekem, Tsur, Chur, and Reva.  They kill Balaam son of Be’or with the sword (cf. 22:2-25:18; 31:16).

The Israelites capture the women of Midian and their children, and they plunder all of their animals and property and burn all of their cities and battlements.  When they bring the captives, the booty, and the spoil—human and animal—to Moses, Elazar the Priest, and the congregation, at the camp in the plains of Moab on the Jordan at Jericho, Moses, Elazar the Priest, and the chiefs of the congregation go to meet them outside of the camp.  Moses is angered with the army commanders, the officers of thousands and the officers of hundreds: You let the women live even though they are the ones who, at the word of Balaam, brought offense against the Eternal in the affair of Pe’or, thereby bringing the plague against the congregation of the Eternal!  So, now, kill every male child and every woman who has lain with a man, and leave alive every female who has not lain with a man.  Remain outside of the camp for seven days if you have killed a person or touched the fallen, and purify yourselves on the third day and on the seventh day, both you and your captive.  Purify also every cloth, every item of skin, anything made from goats, and any wooden item.

Elazar the Priest instructs the combatant troops.  This is the Torah statute, he says, which the Eternal commanded Moses:  Any object that can tolerate fire—gold, silver, copper, iron, tin, lead—pass it through fire to purify it, but it must also be cleansed in water of purification.  Any object that cannot tolerate fire, pass it through water.  Wash your clothes on the seventh day and you shall be pure, then you may enter the camp.

The Eternal instructs Moses to join with Elazar the Priest and the family heads of the congregation to take a census of the captured humans and animals, which they are then to divide between the combatants and the rest of the congregation.  From the combatants’ half share they are to take one out of every 500 lives, from the humans and herds and asses and flocks, for Elazar the Priest as a contribution to the Eternal.  From the rest of the Israelites’ half share they are to take one out of every 50 lives, from the humans and herds and asses and flocks, from all of the animals, and give them to the Levites, who are in charge of the Tabernacle of the Eternal.

Moses and Elazar the Priest do as the Eternal instructs Moses.  The booty, not including the spoil that the army had plundered, came to 675,000 of the flocks, 72,000 of the herds, 61,000 asses, and 32,000 women who had not lain with a man.  Thus, the half share, equally for the combatants and the non-combatants, came to 337,500 of the flocks, 36,000 of the herds, 30,500 of the asses, and 16,000 of the humans.  For the combatants, the portion taken out of the flocks as a contribution to the Eternal was 675, of the herds 72, of the asses 61, and of the humans 32; Moses gives these contributions to Elazar the Priest, as the Eternal commanded Moses.  For the non-combatants Moses takes one out of every 50 lives, of humans and animals, and gives them to the Levites, who were in charge of the Tabernacle of the Eternal, as the Eternal had commanded Moses.

The division commanders of the army, officers of thousands and officers of hundreds, report to Moses that, according to their military census, not a single man is missing.  So they would offer to the Eternal those gold items that each of them found—armlets, bracelets, rings, earrings, kumaz—to seek atonement for their lives before the Eternal.  Moses and Elazar the Priest accept the gold from them, variously crafted work, offered as a contribution to the Eternal, amounting to 16,750 shekels.  Each man of the rank and file keeps his spoil for himself.  Moses and Elazar the Priest bring the gold from the officers of thousands and officers of hundreds to the Tent of Meeting as a remembrance for the Children of Israel before the Eternal.



The Reubenites and the Gadites, with major holdings of cattle, view the land of Yazer and the land of Gilead as ideal territories for their cattle.  They come before Moses, Elazar the Priest, and the chiefs of the congregation, to petition that Atarot, Divon, Yazer, Nimrah, Cheshbon, Elaleh, Sevam, Nevo, and Be’on—“the land which the Eternal has conquered before the Congregation of Israel” (32:4)—be granted them as their possession and that, therefore, they not be required to cross over the Jordan.

Moses argues against their proposal:  Are you suggesting that your brothers go to war while you settle here?  Why would you dissuade the Children of Israel from crossing over to the Land which the Eternal is giving to them?  Thus did your fathers when I sent them from Kadesh-Barneya to view the Land.  They went up as far as Wadi Eshkol and discouraged the Children of Israel from entering the Land!  The Eternal became angry with them on that day and swore that the men  who came up from Egypt at the age of twenty and upwards would never see the Land which He promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, “because they failed to be loyal to Me.” (32:11)  With the exception of Caleb ben Yephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua bin Nun, who did show loyalty to the Eternal, the Eternal caused that generation to wander in the wilderness for forty years, effectively until their demise.  Now you would stand in your fathers’ place, another band of sinful men, to further stoke the anger of the Eternal against Israel!  If you should abandon Him and He consequently abandons Israel in the wilderness again, then you will have brought ruin to all of this people!

They then put forward this counter-proposal:  Let us build sheep-folds for our livestock here and cities for our children.  Then we will promptly prepare for war at the forefront of the Children of Israel until we have brought them to their place.  Meanwhile our children will dwell in fortified cities as protection against the inhabitants of the land.  But we will not return to our homes until the Children of Israel has possessed its portion.  For we will not inherit along with them the land on the other side of the Jordan, as our possession has already been achieved on the eastern side of the Jordan.

In accepting their counter-proposal, Moses emphasizes their obligation to arm for war before the Eternal and for each man so armed to cross over the Jordan before the Eternal until He has dispossessed His enemies from before Him.  Once the land is conquered before the Eternal, you may return and be innocent of offence against the Eternal and against Israel, and this land shall be yours for a possession before the Eternal!  Otherwise you will be guilty of sin against the Eternal, and know that your sin will catch up with you.  So, build cities for your children and sheep-folds for your flocks, just do what you say you will!

The Gadites and the Reubenites accept before Moses the terms of his grant.  Their children, their wives, and their animals, will be there, in the cities of Gilead, “while your servants will cross over, each man armed, before the Eternal for war, as my lord speaks.” (32:27)  Moses tells Elazar the Priest, Joshua bin Nun, and the chiefs of the fathers of the tribes of the Children of Israel, that they are to give them the land of Gilead as a possession if they cross the Jordan in accordance with the terms of their agreement; otherwise they are to receive portions among the other tribes in the land of Canaan.  The Gadites and the Reubenites reassert their intention to cross over the Jordan to the land of Canaan armed before the Eternal and thus to receive their portion on the other side of the Jordan.

Moses grants to the Gadites, to the Reubenites, and to the half-tribe of Manasseh son of Joseph, the kingdom of Sichon king of the Amorites and the kingdom of Og king of the Bashan, the land associated with its cities in the territories surrounding them.

The Gadites build Divon, Atarot, Aroer, Atrot-shophan, Yazer, Yogbohah, Beth-nimrah, and Beth-haran, into fortified cities with sheep-folds.

The Reubenites build Cheshbon, Elaleh, Kiriathaim, Nevo, Baal-me’on—some renamed—and Sivmah, giving new names to the cities that they rebuild.

The sons of Machir son of Manasseh capture Gilead and dispossess the Amorites who are in it.  Moses grants Gilead to Machir son of Manasseh, who settles in it.  Yair son of Manasseh captures their villages and names them Villages of Yair.

Novach captures Kenath and its villages and names it Novach after himself.

From Egypt to the Jordan


These are the journey segments of (Mas’ey) the multitude of the Children of Israel from the land of Egypt under the charge of Moses and Aaron.  Moses recorded their points of departure as commanded by the Eternal.

On the fifteenth day of the first month, on the morrow of the Pesach, the Children of Israel departed from Rameses with a high hand in the sight of all Egypt.  Egypt was burying all the firstborn whom the Eternal had struck down, and He performed judgments against their gods.  They encamped at Sukkot.

Then they journeyed from Sukkot and encamped at Etham, which is at the edge of the desert.

Then they journeyed from Etham and turned back at Pi-hachiroth, which faces Baal-tzephon, and  encamped before Migdol.

Then they journeyed from P’ney-hachiroth and crossed in the midst of the sea towards the wilderness; they went for a distance of three days in the wilderness of Etham and encamped at Marah.

Then they journeyed from Marah and encamped at Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees.

Then they journeyed from Elim and encamped at the Sea of Reeds.

Then they journeyed from the Sea of Reeds and encamped in the wilderness of Sin.

Then they journeyed from the wilderness of Sin and encamped at Dophka.

Then they journeyed from Dophka and encamped at Alush.

Then they journeyed from Alush and encamped at Rephidim, where the people had no water to drink.

Then they journeyed from Rephidim and encamped in the wilderness of Sinai.

Then they journeyed from the wilderness of Sinai and encamped at Kivroth Hatta’avah.

Then they journeyed from Kivroth Hatta’avah and encamped at Chatzerot.

Then they journeyed from Chatzerot and encamped at Rithmah.

Then they journeyed from Rithmah and encamped at Rimmon Peretz.

Then they journeyed from Rimmon Peretz and encamped at Livnah.

Then they journeyed from Livnah and encamped at Rissah.

Then they journeyed from Rissah and encamped at Kehelath.

Then they journeyed from Kehelath and encamped at Mount Shepher.

Then they journeyed from Mount Shepher and encamped at Charadah.

Then they journeyed from Charadah and encamped at Makheloth.

Then they journeyed from Makheloth and encamped at Tachath.

Then they journeyed from Tachath and encamped at Terach.

Then they journeyed from Terach and encamped at Mithkah.

Then they journeyed from Mithkah and encamped at Chashmonah.

Then they journeyed from Chashmonah and encamped at Moseroth.

Then they journeyed from Moseroth and encamped at B’ney Ya’akan.

Then they journeyed from B’ney Ya’akan and encamped at Chor Haggidgad.

Then they journeyed from Chor Haggidgad and encamped at Yotvetah.

Then they journeyed from Yotvetah and encamped at Avronah.

Then they journeyed from Avronah and encamped at Etzyon Gever.

Then they journeyed from Etzyon Gever and encamped in the wilderness of Tsin, that is, Kadesh.

Then they journeyed from Kadesh and encamped at Mount Hor, on the edge of the land of Edom.  Aaron the Priest went up to Mount Hor, at the command of the Eternal, and died there at the age of 123 years, in the fortieth year of the exodus of the Children of Israel from the land of Egypt, on the first day of the fifth month.  The Canaanite, king of Arad, heard, and he was dwelling in the Negev in the land of Canaan, when the Children of Israel entered.

Then they journeyed from Mount Hor and encamped at Tsalmonah.

Then they journeyed from Tsalmonah and encamped at Punon.

Then they journeyed from Punon and encamped at Ovot.

Then they journeyed from Ovot and encamped at Iyyey Ha’avarim in the territory of Moab.

Then they journeyed from Iyyim and encamped at Divon Gad.

Then they journeyed from Divon Gad and encamped at Almon Divlatayim.

Then they journeyed from Almon Divlatayim and encamped in the hills of Avarim before Nebo.

Then they journeyed from the hills of Avarim and encamped on the Jordan at Jericho, from Beth Hayeshimoth as far as Avel Hashittim, in the plains of Moab.

Land of Canaan


In the plains of Moab, on the Jordan at Jericho, the Eternal bids Moses instruct the Children of Israel:  When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, you shall dispossess all the inhabitants of the Land from before you, destroy their carved objects and molten images, and demolish their places of worship.  Those whom you fail to dispossess will be barbs in your eyes and thorns in your side, harassing you on the Land in which you settle.  Then I shall do to you what I intended to do to them.  Rather, take possession of the Land, and dwell in it, as for such have I given it to you.  Apportion the Land by lot among your tribes and families: to the larger enlarge its possession, to the smaller give a smaller share.


The Eternal bids Moses command the Children of Israel:  “When you enter the Land, Canaan, this is the Land which shall devolve to you, the borders of the land of Canaan.” (34:2)

The south side of your territory shall run from the wilderness of Zin alongside Edom.  Your southern boundary shall be from the eastern extremity of the Salt Sea, turning south of the ascent of Akrabbim, continuing to Zin, its limits south of Kadesh Barneya, reaching Chatzar Addar and continuing to Atzmon.  The boundary shall then turn from Atzmon to the Wadi of Egypt and end at the Sea.

Your western boundary shall be the Great Sea.

Your northern boundary shall be from the Great Sea directly to Mount Hor, from Mount Hor directly to the entrance of Chamath, reaching Tsedad.  The boundary shall then run to Ziphron, and it shall end at Chatzar Eynan.

Your eastern boundary shall be from Chatzar Eynan directly to Shepham.  It shall then descend from Shepham to the Rivlah east of Ayin and further down to abut the eastern slope of the Kinneret Sea.  The boundary shall then descend to the Jordan and end at the Salt Sea.

Moses charges the Children of Israel:  This is the Land which you shall inherit by lot, which the Eternal commanded should be given to the nine tribes and the half-tribe, as the tribe of the Reubenites and the tribe of the Gadites and the half-tribe Manasseh have taken as their inheritance territory on the other side of the Jordan, east of Jericho.


The Eternal imparts to Moses the names of the men who will act as agents of apportioning the Land: Elazar the Priest and Joshua bin Nun.  In addition, one chieftain from each tribe:  For the tribe of Judah, Caleb ben Yephunneh; for the tribe of Shimon, Shmuel ben Ammihud; for the tribe of Benjamin, Elidad ben Kislon; for the tribe of Dan, Buki ben Yogli; of the sons of Joseph: for the tribe of Manasseh, Channiel ben Ephod, and for the tribe of Ephraim, Kemuel ben Shiftan; for the tribe of Zebulun, Elitzaphan ben Parnach; for the tribe of Issachar, Paltiel ben Azzan; for the tribe of Asher, Achihud ben Shelomi; and for the tribe of Naphtali, Pedah-el ben Ammihud.


In the plains of Moab, on the Jordan at Jericho, the Eternal bids Moses command the Children of Israel to cede to the Levites from their possession cities for the Levites to dwell in and open land around the cities for their cattle and for other animals.  The open land shall extend for a thousand cubits beyond the city walls.  Measure two thousand cubits extending in each of four directions—east, south, west, and north—with the town in the center, as open land for their cities.  Six of them shall be cities of refuge to which the manslayer may flee, and the rest of the cities shall number forty-eight.  Each group of the Children of Israel shall cede to the Levites a number of cities that is proportionate to its size.


The Eternal warrants Moses to explain to the Children of Israel the purpose and procedure of the cities of refuge that must be designated as such upon crossing the Jordan into the land of Canaan.  One who slays another in error may flee there in refuge from a redeemer, so that the manslayer does not die before standing in the presence of the congregation for judgment.  Three of the six cities shall be located on the other side of the Jordan, and three shall be located in Canaan.  They shall be for the Children of Israel as well as for the stranger and for the resident alien in their midst.

The blood redeemer may put the intentional murderer to death when he encounters him.  Acts of intentional murder would be as follows:  One strikes another with an iron object or with a stone in his hand or with a wooden object in his hand so that he dies; one pushes another with malice or strikes another with malice or throws something at another with intention to harm.  Acts of unintentional manslaughter would be as follows:  One pushes another without intention or malice; one throws something at another without intention to harm; one drops upon another not his enemy a stone which has a lethal potential, though not with intention to harm.  Using these criteria, the congregation shall judge between the slayer and the blood redeemer.

The congregation may protect the manslayer from the blood redeemer and return him to the city of refuge to which he fled, to remain there until the death of the High Priest who was anointed with sacred oil.  If the manslayer should leave the city of refuge and the blood redeemer should then find him and kill him, the blood redeemer bears no bloodguilt for so killing the manslayer.  If the manslayer resides in his city of refuge until the death of the High Priest, after the death of the High Priest he may return to his land holding.


The following shall be your legal statutes throughout your generations in all of your habitations:

One may be executed for murder only on the testimony of witnesses; a single witness shall not be sufficient.

You may not take a ransom for the life of a murderer, convicted of a capital crime; he must be put to death.

You may not take a ransom for one who flees to a city of refuge in order to allow him to return to the Land before the death of the High Priest.

Do not pollute your Land, for blood pollutes the Land, and there is no expiation of the Land for blood which was spilled in it except by the blood of the one who spilled it.

Do not defile the Land in which you dwell, in the midst of which I abide, for I, the Eternal, abide in the midst of the Children of Israel.


The heads of the fathers’ houses of the family of the sons of Gilead son of Machir son of Manasseh of the sons of the family of Joseph draw near to speak before Moses and the other heads of the fathers’ houses of the Children of Israel:  My lord was commanded by the Eternal to apportion the Land by lot to the Children of Israel, and my lord was commanded by the Eternal to give the inheritance of our kinsman Tselophechad to his daughters.  Here is the problem:  They may be married to any of the descendants of the other tribes of the Children of Israel, in which case a part of our tribe’s holding will be alienated from our tribe and added to the holding of the tribes of their husbands, thereby compromising what was issued to our fathers by lot.

Moses commands the Children of Israel according to the word of the Eternal:  The tribe of the descendants of Joseph is right.  The daughters of Tselophechad are instructed that they may become the wives of whomever they prefer, as long as their husbands are of a family of the tribe of their father.  Inheritance of the Children of Israel may not pass from one tribe to another; rather, the Children of Israel shall cleave, each one, to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers.  Every daughter who inherits a portion of the holdings of any of the tribes of the Children of Israel must marry so that any man of the Children of Israel shall inherit the portion of his fathers.

The daughters of Tselophechad—Machlah, Tirtzah, Choglah, Milcah, and Noa—did as the Eternal commanded Moses.  They were married to sons of their uncles, drawing their husbands from families of the sons of Manasseh son of Joseph, thus retaining their inheritance for the tribe of their father’s family.


These, then, are the commandments and the ordinances which the Eternal commanded through Moses to the Children of Israel in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho.

Chazak! Chazak! Venitchazek!


Second Haftarah of Rebuke
Jeremiah 2:4-28; 3:4

Abandonment and Perversity

Hear the word of the Eternal,
O house of Jacob!

What injustice did your fathers find in Me,
that caused them to reject Me
and go instead after nothingness?

That they did not even ask:
Where is the Eternal,
who brought us up from the land of Egypt,
who walked with us through the wilderness,
desolate and empty,
who brought us to a fruitful land?

you came and defiled My Land
and made My bequest
an abomination!

Not even the Priests asked for Me,
nor the Scholars nor the Rulers nor the Prophets.
The Prophets prophesied for Baal
and went after things of no value.

Therefore do I contend with you,
declares the Eternal,
and with your children’s children:
Go as far as the isles of the Kittites,
and inquire unto Kedar;
see if there is anything like it.
Has any other people changed its God
for those which are not God?
But My people has exchanged its Glory
for that which cannot help!

Yes, those are the two evils
that My people has committed:
They have forsaken Me,
Fountain of living waters,
they have dug for themselves
broken cisterns,
which cannot even hold water.

Is Israel a slave?
Why should he become prey?
The lions roar
and desolate his land.
Egypt feeds upon your head.

You have lost your way.
You have forsaken the Eternal
just when He was guiding you.
Now, what business have you
on the road to Egypt?
What business have you
on the highway to Assyria?
May your evil only correct you!

Long ago I broke your yoke,
and you promised not to desert Me.
But now you recline on every high hill,
a harlot under every verdant tree.

I planted you as the finest of vines,
a true planting of the highest aspiration;
how have you turned instead,
deviated unrecognizably.

Though you wash yourself with soap,
your iniquity remains visible.
Can you deny your turning to the Baalim?
Even now your lust is unhidden,
a wild ass used to the wilderness!
You still make yourself available
to your lovers who seek you.

But withdraw your foot from bareness,
your passion from the love of strangers.
Like the shame of a thief when he is found,
so shall the House of Israel and its rulers
be ashamed,
who say to a piece of wood,
“You are my father,”
or to a dumb stone,
“It was you who bore me!”

They have turned their back on Me,
but in their time of trouble they will say,
“Arise and save me!”
Where are your gods
that you made for yourself?
Let them arise and save you in your time of trouble!
As the number of your cities
are your gods, O Judah!

But surely now
you call to Me,
“My Father,
You are Friend of my youth!”


Numbers Rabbah 22:1
Entitlements to God’s Name

“If a man…takes an oath…”

This is explained further by:

“If you swear, ‘As the Eternal lives…,’ even sincerely,
only by law and by righteousness
shall there be blessing by Him…”
(Jeremiah 4:2)

The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel:  Do not suppose you are permitted to take an oath by My name, even sincerely, unless you possess all of these qualities:

“If you fear the Eternal your God
and worship Him,
and cleave to Him,
then you may swear an oath in His name.”
(Deuteronomy 10:20)

You must be like Abraham, of whom it was said, “Do not extend your hand to the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God…” (Genesis 22:12).

If you occupy yourself with Torah, engage in commandments, and practice no other worship, for such it was said, “…and worship Him.”

But is it even possible for a man to cleave to the divine presence, for has it not been said, “The Eternal your God is a consuming fire (Deuteronomy 4:24)!  What it teaches is: Whoever marries his daughter to a true student of Torah and supports him from his earnings, then surely “to Him do you cleave!”  For “a man cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh!” (Genesis 2:24)

Numbers Rabbah 22:2
Whose Vengeance?

“The Eternal speaks to Moses, saying:
‘Seek vengeance for the Children of Israel
from the Midianites…’

Yet Moses says to the people:
Arm yourselves to seek
“vengeance of the Eternal
against Midian!”

The Holy One, blessed be He, is telling Israel: It is your case against the Midianites because they, in seducing you, caused Me to punish you (cf. 25:1-18).  Moses responds: Master of the universe, if we were uncircumcised or idolators or transgressors of Your commandment, they would not despise us and pursue us.  But it is because of Torah and Mitzvot, that You have given us!  Therefore the vengeance is Yours!

Numbers Rabbah 22:4
Moses Excepts Himself

“The Eternal speaks to Moses, saying:
‘Seek vengeance for the Children of Israel
from the Midianites…’” (31:1-2),
you yourself!


“Moses sends them,
a thousand men from each tribe,
to war…”

If God commanded Moses himself,
why did Moses turn around and send others?

Because Moses was nurtured as a young adult in the land of Midian, he thought: It is not right for me to seek harm against the one who was good to me.  The proverb says: Cast no stone into the well from which you have drunk.

Sifre Mattot 157
Tanchuma Mattot 3
Talmud Sotah 43a
The Mystique of Pinchas

Why did Moses send Pinchas in the war against the Midianites
instead of his father Elazar the Priest?


He who begins the mitzvah should be the one to finish it:
“Pinchas son of Elazar son of Aaron the Priest
has turned back My wrath
from upon the Children of Israel” (cf. 25:6-9),
so let him finish his mitzvah!


“Moses sends them, 12,000 men to war against Midian,
(1) them together with (2) Pinchas son of Elazar the Priest…
and the (3) sacred implements
and the (4) trumpets for sounding the blasts in his hand.”

(1) The repetition of them implies the Sanhedrin;
(2) Pinchas is the Priest who was anointed for war
(cf. Deuteronomy 20:2; Mishnah Sotah 8:1);
(3) The sacred implements are the Ark in which
were the Tablets of the Ten Commandments; and
(4) The trumpets for sounding the blasts are the Shofars.

Torah Temimah: All of these are derived from the verse to reflect the fact that this was an obligatory war of requital against Midian on behalf of the Eternal.

Malbim: “Them (the Sanhedrin) together with Pinchas” is a case of one person (Pinchas) being singled out of the group to which he belongs (Sanhedrin), implying that the one person is being compared to the entire group. Here, Pinchas is being compared to them, which in its first occurrence refers to the group of 12,000 soldiers.

Them together with Pinchas” indicates that they, the 12,000 soldiers, were comparable to the one Pinchas and that the one Pinchas was comparable to them, the 12,000 soldiers.

Malbim: Pinchas was comparable to the 12,000 soldiers in that he executed the primary salvation on behalf of the Eternal (cf. Numbers 25).  The 12,000 soldiers were comparable to Pinchas because he was instrumental for the salvation to be executed by the Children of Israel and credited to them in compliance with the divine command, “Seek vengeance for the Children of Israel from the Midianites…” (ibid. 31:1).


An early teacher from the time of the Mishnah taught:

Not for nothing did Pinchas go out to war but to exact judgment against those Midianites on behalf of his maternal grandfather, Joseph, as was said: “Midianite traders passed by and pulled Joseph out of the pit and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver, and they brought Joseph to Egypt…” (Genesis 37:28)!

Am I to infer that Pinchas was descended from Joseph?  But it is written, “Elazar son of Aaron took for himself a wife from the daughters of Putiel, and she bore him Pinchas (Exodus 6:25). Does that not show that Pinchas was descended not from Joseph but from Jethro, who must have been called Putiel (“god fattener”) because (as the “priest of Midian,” cf. Exodus 3:1) he fattened calves for idolatrous worship?!

No, Pinchas was descended from Joseph, who must have been called Putiel (“arguer for God”) because he argued against ungodly temptations when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him (Genesis 39:7-12)!

But hold on, didn’t the other tribes impugn Pinchas when he was appointed by Moses to lead them in the war against Midian, by jeering, “Look at this grandson of ‘Puti’: His maternal grandfather fattened calves for idolatry and he turns around a murders a prince of Israel (Zimri son of Salu, chieftain of the tribe of Simon, cf. Numbers 25:14)!”  Surely they would not have jeered at him if he were descended from Joseph!

You know, if from his maternal grandfather he was descended from Joseph, his maternal grandmother still could have been descended from Jethro, or if his maternal grandmother was descended from Joseph, his maternal grandfather still could have been descended from Jethro!  And this possibility of a double heritage on his mother’s side is supported by the fact that “Putiel” (Exodus 6:25) is spelled with the letter yod  (Rashi: The letter yod is often used for the plural, thus implying that there were two Putis, both Joseph and Jethro!).  Take this as the correct conclusion!

Numbers Rabbah 22:4
The Punishment Due Balaam

“They attack Midian…and kill every male…
including the five kings of Midian:
Evi, Rekem, Tsur, Chur, and Reva.
They kill Balaam son of Be’or with the sword.

What was Balaam doing there?
He had come to collect his share of the booty,
his reward for devising
the Midianite seduction of Israel (cf. 31:16).

About him was it said:
“He who digs a pit
will fall in it,
and to one who rolls a stone
will it return.”
(Proverbs 26:27)

Numbers Rabbah 22:7
Why “the race is not to the swift…”

“The Reubenites and the Gadites
had very large holdings of cattle…”

Three gifts were created in the world, such that if one is worthy of any one of them, he inherits all of the world’s enjoyment.  If he is worthy of wisdom, he is worthy of all.  If he is worthy of might, he is worthy of all.  If he is worthy of riches, he is worthy of all.  But only when they are the gifts of Heaven and flow from the strength of Torah, whereas might and riches of flesh and blood are as nothing.

This is really what Solomon meant when he said:

“I observe in real life
that the race is not to the swift,
nor the battle to the mighty,
that the bread is not to the wise
nor riches to those of understanding,
nor is favor to the knowledgeable,
but time and chance
would seem to explain them all!”
(Ecclesiastes 9:11)

Jeremiah put it this way:

“Thus says the Eternal:
‘Let not the wise be praised for his wisdom,
nor the mighty be praised for his strength;
let not the rich man be praised for his wealth,
rather let the one who would be praised
be praised in this:
That he understands and knows of Me
that I, the Eternal, show lovingkindness
along with justice and righteousness in the earth!

“’Yes, in these do I delight,’
says the Eternal!”

(Jeremiah 9:22-23)

These same gifts, when they do not come from the Holy One, blessed be He, are destined to be lost.  Thus you find with the Gadites and the Reubenites, who were wealthy and owned much cattle, who loved their money and chose to reside outside of the Land of Israel.  Therefore were they exiled first of all of the tribes, as was said, “The God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul, king of Assyria, and the spirit of Tillegath-Pilneser, king of Assyria, and exiled the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh…” (I Chronicles 5:26).  What was the reason?  They separated themselves from their brothers because of their possessions, as the section begins: “The Reubenites and the Gadites had very large holdings of cattle…”!

Numbers Rabbah 23:2
“Your people like a flock…”

“These are the journey segments
of the multitude of the Children of Israel
from the land of Egypt
under the charge of Moses and Aaron.”

This is amplified by these words:

“I recall the deeds of the Eternal…
by Your strong arm You redeemed Your people…
the waters beheld You and were terrified…
Your lightning lit up the world…
You guided Your people like a flock
in the hand of Moses and Aaron.”
(Psalms 77:12-21)

“Like a flock?”

Just as a flock does not benefit from the shelter of a roof,
so did Israel during all forty of its years in the wilderness
not benefit from a permanent shelter.

Just as a flock does not benefit from an accumulation of resources
but finds its pasture in the wilderness,
so did Israel during all forty of its years in the wilderness
find its nourishment day to day but not in accumulation.

Just as a flock finds its pasture wherever the shepherd leads it,
so did Israel follow after Moses and Aaron
to whatever places they journeyed,
as was said:
“These are the journey segments…of the Children of Israel…”
to support what was said:
“You guided Your people like a flock
in the hand of Moses and Aaron.”

Tanchuma Mas’ey 1
Miraculous Journeys

Let our Rabbi teach us:  If one is being pursued by gentiles or by robbers, may he profane the Sabbath to find refuge?

Thus do our Rabbis teach:  One who is being pursued by gentiles or by robbers should profane the Sabbath in order to save his life.  For thus we find with David: When Saul sought to kill him, he fled and found refuge (cf. I Samuel 19:18).

It happened that evil writs from the king were delivered to the leaders of the community of Sepphoris on Shabbat.  They reported it to Rabbi Elazar ben Parta and asked him if they should flee.  He was afraid to tell them to flee on Shabbat, so he answered them with indirect hints:  You ask me?  Go ask Jacob, of whom is written, “Jacob fled to the field of Aram…!” (Hosea 12:13)  Go ask Moses, of whom is written, “Moses fled from before Pharaoh…!” (Exodus 2:15)  Go ask David, of whom is written, “David fled and found refuge…!” (I Samuel 19:18)

Thus says the prophet:  “Flee, my people, enter your chambers, and lock your doors behind you!  Hide for just a moment, until the anger passes.” (Isaiah 26:20)

Whence do we derive that the saving of life supersedes the Sabbath?  It is written, “You shall observe My statutes and My ordinances, which a man shall do and by which he shall live…” (Leviticus 18:5): therefore, he shall not die by them!

It can also be derived from circumcision, of which is written, “On the eighth day shall the flesh of his foreskin be circumcised” (Leviticus 12:3), and there is no exemption for Shabbat.  So it follows from the logic of kal va-chomer: If circumcision, which affects only one of the 248 components of the body, supersedes the Sabbath, then how much the moreso should a man’s entire body, viz. his life, supersede the Sabbath!

At the same time, the Holy One, blessed be He, has said to Israel:  My children, be careful to keep My commandments and preserve the Torah.  Consider how many miracles and wonders I have performed for you from the time that you went forth from Egypt!  How I defeated your enemies and brought you across the sea, how I brought fear and trembling upon your enemies and more recently destroyed the Amorites, Sichon, and Og!  In all of the forty years I never abandoned you or left you to flee from your enemies.  I removed snakes and scorpions from before you and never allowed them to harm you!  Therefore, the Holy One, blessed be He, says to Moses: Record the journeys that Israel followed in the wilderness, so that they will know from each journey of Mas’ey how many miracles I have performed for them.


Copyright © 2020 Eric H. Hoffman

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