9 Av 5776 פרשת מַּטּוֹת – מַסְעֵי, ט’ אב, תשע”ו
We are at the end of this journey through the books of the Torah. After the 17th of Tammuz we begin the 3 weeks of sorrow followed by 7 weeks of teshuva which prepare us for the High Holidays. The Haftarah has very little to do with the reading but has more to do with idea of our being disobedient to the Creator for which we suffered the consequences. This includes everyone from top to bottom, the priests, the prophets and leaders. I see this more and more today in the world especially in Israel. We don’t want to be honest with ourselves or with others because we are afraid to be labelled as bigots, fanatics or people who are not clear-headed. The world has two extremes today, both sides being fanatic. On the one hand we have the liberals who believe that they are the only ones who are right and that all others are limited in their thinking. On the other hand are the religious fanatics who also think they hold the whole truth and will even go so far as to eliminate and destroy those who don’t agree with them. Our role is to be somewhere in the middle as our Messiah Yeshua told us… “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.” Matthew 17:13. We are living in a day when even though our opinion is valid, we are afraid to express it because we prefer not to hurt anyone’s feelings. Europe and America are holding themselves back from telling the truth about certain groups for that very reason. One of the problems is that there are those who within these religions or groups who do not agree with the fanatic element within their midst, they do not stand up and openly reject their behavior. Instead everyone remains hushed.
Today we are also unable to stand up and give our opinion about a certain lifestyle choice. This is a generation that says “I’m ok, you’re ok” but the truth is that no one is ok. If we say publicly that we disagree with a certain type of behavior we are labelled bigots and religious fanatics. We can lose our positions and even be arrested. The majority says that the most important thing today is “love” but this type of love is actually a caricature of love. Demagoguery is in the air where they tell people with itchy ears what they want to hear. Most of the modern prophets are like Bilaam and they have become politicians. There must be some good and honest politicians out there but the great majority don’t speak the truth and when they do, the journalists attack them along with anyone who tries to speak the truth. We can no longer mention truth which in itself changes according to circumstances. A lie today has simply become someone’s opinion.
This double parashat Mattot Maasei means tribes and journeys. The sages say that there were 42 stops that the Israelites made on their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. Gematria gives us a beautiful picture of number 42 which is 7X6 means as follows: 7 is completion and 6 is the number of man. Mattot begins with the idea of vows. Yeshua spoke in his Sermon of the Mount of how we should not swear about anything but that our yes needs to be yes and our no needs to be no. Anything else comes from evil. Matthew 5:37. The Torah teaches us that if we make vows, we need to keep our word. My father was a very honorable businessman and his handshake was worth more than any contract. His word was his bond. This has disappeared today and instead it is rare to find honesty in business. Bankruptcy has become a means to get ahead leaving those at the bottom to suffer.
In this portion we see Moshe not being allowed to go to the Promised Land and begging the Creator to allow him at least to go up the mountain to see it from a distance. After all that he had done he couldn’t go to the other side and now he would pass the baton of leadership to his second in command, Joshua. There is always a leader for a time and a new leader will take over. I am praying that the world would have a good leader but the problem is that there is no one to be found. Instead we find dictators who care about themselves and not the people. Those great leaders have disappeared. Today’s politicians only care about how much money they can accumulate for themselves. They supposedly come to serve the people and when they begin they have empty pockets but when they leave, they are millionaires. The people adore these leaders and don’t see the moral turpitude of these leaders. We are more concerned today about being correct politically, socially and theologically while the Torah asks us to be ethically and morally correct for everyone, not just a small powerful minority. This is our problem today and why the principles in this parashah are so important.
Our sages tell us that the Torah is really comprised of these four books and that the fifth book is simply one written by Moshe to recount to the new generation the most important things learned from their 40 years of experience in the desert. We need to analyze what happened during these 42 stages in order to learn the principles for us today. They would follow the cloud by day and the fire by night showing us that it wasn’t Moshe who lead the people in the wilderness, it was our Creator. Today I wish we could allow Him to lead us throughout our lifetime instead of being led by people who we don’t even know who they truly are. Many of us haven’t taken the beautiful principles, teaching and guidance of the Torah into consideration but instead look at it is as a book of laws. When we become legalistic we lose sight of our true path. It is not about being black and white but it is about how it relates to us today. It is not an easy process because we all have our various opinions on it. The Oral Torah shows us the various discussions of our sages. They don’t agree on everything but in the end they accept that they can all be right. However, only the Creator holds the whole Truth. The things that the Creator has revealed to man are for him to know and what He has not revealed to man is not for him to know (Devarim 29:28). From the beginning of time man has spent most of his time trying to search for what God has not revealed to us. We are not happy with or interested in what He has already showed us. For example, there is a subject in theology called eschatology or the End Times. If you have studied this area, you will have heard everyone’s opinions. The trouble is that our Creator told us that this is not for us to know and that He will reveal it to us when the time is right. Not only do we insist on telling others about this, we correct Him because He is wrong and we are right. That is humanity. We have the chutzpah to tell our Creator that He is wrong and how we can better His creation. The politicians and religious people have money in common — both have very full pockets. Who are they serving…the golden calf or the Creator?
In this parashah, the Creator tells us to keep our word once we give it. This is very important principle. Next He will tell the people to get even with the Midianites for what they did to Israel. Under God’s direction, Moshe sends 12,000 men to fight the Midianites and the Moabites and miraculously not one Israelite soldier dies. They bring back the bounty of their battle and what do they bring? The women! …those who had gotten them into trouble in the first place. They then needed to go through the cleansing process to make things right.
What can we learn from all the stops that they had to make? The greatest gift that our Creator gave us is free will. We each have the right to make our own decisions. This right makes us responsible for these decisions. What is happening in the world today? Most of us blame others for our actions. We rarely take responsibility for what they have done. You see this with the politicians. Few people are honest today admitting that they did wrong and want to make it right. It is a chaotic world.
We are beginning this period when we need to start analyzing ourselves. It is very easy to speak about others but we first need to begin with ourselves. We need to learn boundaries, how far we can go, how much we can speak, when to keep quiet because we are responsible for one another. In Proverbs it is written that even a foolish man who doesn’t open his mouth looks wise. Sometimes we need to keep our mouths shut while at other times we need to learn when to speak out. My fathers’ favorite scripture is in Proverbs 31:8-9. “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” My father was a champion for justice. This has been put in the hearts of the Jewish people. We love to fight for the underdog. If you come to be part of our people, you can understand this as well. Our existence is not for our sake but for the sake of others. This is one of the several themes that I have for our community. Isaiah wrote that our Creator said: My house is house of prayer for all nations. Another theme is “the reason we exist is for those who are outside these walls”. We have the calling to serve, not to be served. That is why we are not popular. We are not offering people goodies. There are places that are filled to the rafters where preachers make you feel so very good. However, my advice to you is face yourself and to be honest with yourself. Religion and politics tell you that you need to be with the winners. Our Creator gives us restrictions. He gave His Word and His will and that makes it difficult for us because the world calls us fanatics, bigots, narrow-minded when we do not agree with it. If we were popular there would be no empty seats here. We ourselves can sometimes be confused because we are constantly challenged about why we are not full. If they offer something free to people and we offer the same thing at a cost where will the people go. Obviously, they will go where it is free. Serving the Creator is not free and easy, there is a cost. Ask Moshe Rabbeinu. How many times did he want to quit? How often have I felt the same? We don’t see people responding and we feel as if we are talking to the wall.
The name of this community is called She’ar Yashuv, a remnant shall return. This name comes from Isaiah’s second son. It doesn’t mean the majority but the leftovers. That is who we are. We are not charismatic, nor can we fool anyone. We are called to tell the truth. Our Messiah Yeshua came to bring us back to Torah not to start a new religion, or to crown himself as God. He came to bring us back to the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob. He was a Jew, a Rabbi, a tsadiq – צדיק, a righteous man. Today he is not seen like that because we have created another entity that doesn’t exist. Does our Creator need another god to supplement Himself? Just because you believe strongly about something, that doesn’t make it true. Yeshua spoke to Jews who understood his words when he said “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free”. The word truth is a euphemistic way of saying the name of the Creator since there was a tradition in place at his time that the name of the Creator, yud heh vav heh – יהוה could not be pronounced or even mentioned. Thus other words were used as descriptive. Yeshua used the word truth, emet אמתas one of these. In Hebrew this word has 3 letters, aleph, mem and tav, the first, middle and last letters in the Hebrew alphabet. From beginning to end, the Hebrew alphabet describes the Creator. The word “yodeah” – know is understood as an intimate relationship as between husband and wife. It is not about knowledge where you spend time memorizing the Bible. It has to do with having an intimate relationship with the Creator. What a privilege this was and is! Freedom does not mean doing whatever you want. It involves responsibility. True freedom means to learn and exercise restraint. How many of us exercise the value of auto – restraint. If a man cannot control himself, he cannot be a man.
I have been a counselor for over 40 years beginning with addictions. Many of us have addictive personalities. When we are hooked to a thing it becomes our god. It is very difficult to break an addiction. Our Creator warns us to keep our distance those things and not to abuse anything. Everything God created was good as it is written in Genesis. We are the ones who make it good or bad. Wine is good but drunkenness is not. There are many drugs from plants which are used to heal but their abuse brings us to destruction. Today sex is a drug and is sold all over the world. It demeans the woman, the children and the men involved. Our Creator tells us to be responsible for ourselves. We cannot blame our past and our families, even if you have come from a very difficult home. Once you are an adult you are then responsible for your actions. We are offered the chance to choose life.
Throughout the years I have been teaching that we are each made in a marvelous way as we read in Psalm 139. We are each special and are privileged to have been called on this journey. We need to learn to be responsible toward the others and to humble ourselves before Him. There is no perfection in us. We are humans and commit mistakes and so the Creator gave us teshuva so that we can acknowledge our faults and make things right with our fellow man. That process is our remaking. When you don’t care about your actions or about others you become destructive. Each one of us is very important. We matter. We are special. Don’t look at how small we are but at the privilege of being a chosen vessel for Him. We don’t need to be like others who follow anything new. We follow Him. Let us not complicate our lives but get back to basics. Blessed are those who are poor in spirit and who humble themselves before the Creator for they will be in His Presence. The journeys of the tribes of Israel give us a picture of the journey that we each take though this life. They learned to be in community, accountable and responsible for each other. It is only then that true growth can occur. No man was created to be an island.