2 Av 5782
To hear the recorded message, click on https://youtu.be/ocPqQNjcSC0
Here is our Discussion following the message: https://youtu.be/WtyUyV8eIsk
God’s Mercy is so Great!
Matot and Masei are two parashiot that often go together, but these two words have opposite meaning. The word “Mate” whose plural is “Matot” means “rod”, “stake”, a piece of dry wood. A stick is something inert, which is cut from the tree where it grew. It can no longer continue to grow or create new life. It will always remain static and invariable. “Masei”, from the verb “to travel”, is exactly the opposite. It is the very essence of dynamism, movement, development, and growth. Because travel is the paradigm of progress.
This juxtaposition of Matot and Masei is symbolic of the Torah itself. The Torah transforms the inert and gives it life. Let us remember the rod of Aaron that blossomed, and the rod of Moses that turned into a serpent. A simple inert rod was the symbol of the beginning of life for the people of Israel when it touched ha Yam Suf, the Sea of Reeds and divided it so that they could cross over on dry ground. The transformation of the inert rod (Mate) produces progress (Masei), depicting the journeys of the Israelites throughout history. The journeys mentioned in this parashah represent the journeys of exile that the people of Israel would undertake in their history. Masei not only refers to the journeys that brought the people ever closer to the Promised Land, but it also refers to the growth of people through the observance of Torah. The Torah says “the journeys of the children of Israel who came out of Egypt” in the plural, taking the journeys in the desert as a set of small journeys, or a succession of journeys. Slavery in Egypt is not only a physical condition, but also a state of mind. The process of liberation from Egypt was not something that happened instantly, but something that continues from generation to generation.
Why does the Torah mention these displacements of the people of Israel? One explanation may be that miracles are true for those who witness them while for those who hear about them, they are simple stories that can be denied. It is difficult to keep them firm and verifiable over time. One of the great miracles that the Torah tells us is the permanence of the people of Israel in the desert. Deuteronomy 8:15 describes the desert as a place “great and dreadful, full of fiery serpents and scorpions, and thirsty, where there was no water…”. Surviving for forty years in a place like this is impossible even today. Let us imagine for one moment that we are living at that time. The story of Israel’s journeys through these inhospitable and dangerous places helps us to recognize the greatness of the miracle that occurred there in the desert where our ancestors walked during their journey to the Promised Land.
In chapter 32 of our parashah, we find the story of the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad, who came to Moses to ask for land to settle on this side of the Jordan. At first, Moses refused. “It is not fair that you give up the conquest and stay here while the others go to fight.” “What they are going to achieve is to discourage others.” “Do you not remember that this is how our fathers acted when I sent the spies and that is why many died?” Then the Torah says that they came to Moses to speak to him. But they were already there. Why do they say they came? Our sages say that the word וַיָּבֹאוּ” vayavo’u”, used here to say that they came, comes from “Vayigash” (approach), suggesting the idea of they approached. Hearing Moses, the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad approached Moses. They “shortened the distance” between Moses and themselves. The sons of Reuben and Gad “empathized” with Moses, “understood” Moses and approached him to speak to him as one human being to another. “We understand your fear, so we will go with our brothers, and we will not go behind but ahead.” They simply said they would do it. “You have our word.” In this way, they created trust and Moses accepted the proposal. Then the conditions were established. They closed the deal with a guarantee, establishing conditions and consequences. This double conditioning (if you do and if you don’t) is the basis for a good agreement. it is important to be clear in cases of compliance and non-compliance. We find here a relationship with the regulations about the vows that are mentioned at the beginning of this parshah.
Then chapter 35 speaks about the cities of refuge which were six Levitical cities where those guilty of manslaughter could take refuge. Although this term might seem lenient, it was actually a place of trial since the murderer could only stay there if he was found not guilty of premeditated murder and treachery. When the person took refuge there, his case was judged by the congregation. If he was found guilty, he was not allowed to enter. These cities were there so that the accused person could defend himself if he had acted without malicious intent. The cities of refuge were an evident sign of the infinite mercy of the Eternal. This teaches us that judgment and kindness must act together. It is said that when God created the world, He did so with good judgment and kindness. In this way, we can grow and enjoy life.
The goal of mercy is to help a person, but if the person lacks common sense, then he will regard any favor as gratuitous, and he will not learn the lesson from it. The only way he will learn his lesson is to suffer the consequences of his actions. That is why the murderer found refuge there, but he had to remain there practically his whole life because he could only leave when the High Priest died. If he left before, he could be the object of revenge by the family of the deceased.
The mercy of the Creator is infinite and covers us all equally, otherwise we might not even be alive. Baruch HaShem! Blessed be His Name.