MATOS-MASEI (Numbers, 30:2-36:13) — “Say a Little Prayer for Me”

The travels of the Israelites in the desert are coming to an end.  Moses has been told whom to put in charge of the distribution of the parcels of land in Canaan.  Twelve of the thirteen tribes (the Tribe of Joseph has been divided into two tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh) will receive land.  The Tribe of Levi will not.  The Levites are to be given 48 Levitical cities within the borders of the various tribes.  Six of these cities are to be cities of refuge.

The Torah provides for capital punishment for certain crimes under specific circumstances.  (A discussion of the rarity of capital punishment and its significance is beyond the scope of this week’s message.  See “A Capital Idea”.)  Whenever a homicide takes place, the perpetrator is to immediately flee to a city of refuge.  This city was run by the Levites as a place for killers to live.  As long as the killer stayed in the city of refuge, he would be protected from the Goel Hadam – “blood avenger”, a relative of the victim who, as the name implies, was out for blood.  The murder suspect was then given a protective escort to his trial.  If he was found guilty of “Murder 1,” he was executed.  If it was determined that the slaying was accidental, he was returned to a life in exile in a city of refuge.

How long a sentence did one serve for manslaughter?  That was dependent upon a factor that had no apparent relationship to the criminal or the crime: “He must dwell in the city of refuge until the death of the Kohain Gadol (High Priest).  After the death of the Kohain Gadol, the killer may return to the land of his possession.”  (Numbers, 35:28)

WHY ARE WE PICKING ON THE HIGH PRIEST?  How do you think it made the Kohain Gadol feel to know that several convicts were eagerly anticipating his demise?  (The Talmud tells us that it was customary for the mother of the High Priest to distribute food and gifts to the “detainees” in the refuge cities in the hope that they wouldn’t pray for her son to die.)  What did HE do wrong?

The Talmud (Makkos, 11a) points out that in one respect, he WAS at fault.  Every Yom Kippur, the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies, and prayed for the welfare of his people.  The hallmark of the priesthood is Peace.  In the Priestly Blessing, the Kohanim ask G-d to grant us peace.  (See “Blessing the Blessers”.) What went wrong?  How could this tragedy have happened?  If the Kohain had prayed sufficiently, says the Talmud, this catastrophe could have been avoided.  As the spiritual leader of the nation, the High Priest bears some of the responsibility.  Therefore, the killer sits in exile until the Kohain Gadol’s death.


This is an amazing concept.  Apparently, the Kohain is taken to task for not praying adequately.  The Torah is telling us that through our prayers, we (sometimes) have the power to influence events.  Had the Kohain prayed more intensely, had he expressed more concern in pleading to G-d for his people, such a terrible event MIGHT not have occurred.  (This is not to say that every tragedy is due to not praying enough; every prayer is answered; sometimes the answer is “No.”)

We all know of situations where people have difficulties.  Some folks struggle to make ends meet.  We should pray for them. The world is filled with people who are challenged, saddened, and heartbroken.  We need to pray for them.  Life is frightening for our brethren in Israel.  We MUST pray for them.

Isn’t it amazing?  We see someone sneeze, and we automatically say, “G-d bless you.” Yet, when we see someone with a handicap, what do we do?  We look away!!?

We don’t have enough money to solve everyone’s financial problems.  But G-d does.  We don’t have the medical capabilities to heal every sick person.  But G-d does.  We don’t have the time or emotional ability to fix every broken heart.  But G-d does. SO WHY DON’T WE ASK HIM???!!!

(Just for the record, praying for someone doesn’t exempt us from doing our utmost to help.  “Why should I give him charity?  I already asked G-d to help him!” :-))

I am not so naive as to believe that with my modest mailing list, (some of whom – besides my mother – actually read this once in a while!) Torah Talk is a major influence in the spiritual lives of many people.  But think for a moment.  What would happen if five of my readers would 1) decide to pray every day for Shalom in the world, and 2) ask five of their friends to do the same?  Then those five friends would make the same commitment.  Etc., etc., etc.  (Spiritual Amway! :-)) Imagine the eventual results of all those people praying to G-d to make the world a better place!

The Talmud (Megillah, 27B) tells us that when someone wishes us well, we should respond, “V’chen l’Mar” – (“The same to you”).  If you pray for me, the least I can do is to pray for you. G-d listens in on all our conversations; you never know when He is most receptive to a prayer.

Someday, Tisha B’Av will be a day of feasting and celebration, rather than a day of fasting and sorrow.  Let us all pray that day will come soon.

May G-d bless you all.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz


From the Archives

Some years the two Torah Portions of Matos and Massei are read together, and some years they are read on two separate Sabbaths.  For your convenience, here are links to both Portions:


“The Pope and the Designated Hitter” (2007) 

(This article appeared, in abbreviated form, as an op/ed in the Jewish Press.  The article went on to be misquoted in several languages in Catholic Blogs and websites all over the world.  Lots of Catholics now love me and agree with me, and some despise me; and both groups do so for the same reason – because they have totally misinterpreted what I wrote!!  🙂)

Oh, man, are they ever angry!…

I don’t require my Christian neighbor to respect my religious beliefs.  His beliefs are his business; my beliefs are mine…Don’t worry about my soul… we’ll worry about our own souls, thank you…

The Pope believes I am wrong.  If he didn’t, he wouldn’t be much of a Catholic.  And that’s okay.  He can believe whatever he wants.  He just happens to be wrong…

Read more.


“The Silverware Garden” (2005) 

One of the more common misconceptions in Kosher Law that I come across is the notion that I like to call “the  Silverware Garden.”  I can’t tell you how many people have told me that they recall in their youth observing their mothers or grandmothers taking spoons, forks, and knives that had become non-Kosher and sticking them in the ground for a few days to make them Kosher.  There appears to be some mystical power of the earth to draw the non-Kosher status out of the utensils.  The truth is that this practice demonstrates a total misunderstanding of the process of Koshering vessels…

Read more.


“First Things First!” (2003)

The Tribes of Reuben and Gad were wealthy.  They owned larger flocks of livestock than the other tribes.  They needed a place to graze those flocks.  That place was the East Bank of the Jordan River.

The two tribes asked Moses to allow them to inherit the East Bank…

A win/win situation.  Reuben/Gad get grazing land for their flocks.  The other tribes get to divide the  Land of  Israel ten ways, rather than twelve.

Moses, however, was not impressed…

Read more.



“The Long and Winding Road” (2011)

…Why does the Torah end with a SEEMINGLY unnecessary list of 42 stops that Israe lmade on their journey through the desert?  They are, suggests the Tzror Hamor, a reference to the 42-letter name of G-d.  Thus, the Torah begins Genesis with that name of G-d, and ends with that name of  G-d…Read more.    


“The Language of G-d” (2010)

Our Sages make a very surprising comment on this event.   “G-d said to Moses, ‘Do Me a favor, and tell Aaron … because I am embarrassed to tell him.”

This statement obviously requires explanation.  What could cause G-d to refer to Himself as “embarrassed”, and how would that embarrassment be prevented through Moses’ intercession?…

Read more.


“Hey! Ya Never Know!” (2004)

… Joshua needed to get to the bottom of this.  All he knew was that SOMEONE had violated the ban; he needed to find out who the criminal was … Achan did not cooperate in the interrogation.  “Are you accusing me based upon a LOTTERY?  Is this how you search for criminals?  By coincidence?!  Why don’t you try drawing lots between yourself and Elazar the High Priest?  One of YOU will come out guilty!

Achan seems to have had a good point.  It appears that Joshua himself wasn’t sure…

Read more.


“One Small Step for a Man…” (2002)

…I once heard movie critic Michael Medved asked on the radio how he maintains a spiritual life, in spite of his exposure to some of the non-spiritual (to be kind) elements of the world of “entertainment.”  Mr. Medved responded that …

There is something else Mr. Medved does to maintain a holier way of life.  He does it by keeping the spiritual level of his home on a higher plane than the average home.  He doesn’t…

Read more.


“Say a Little Prayer for Me” (2001)

…How long a sentence did one serve for manslaughter?  That was dependent upon a factor that had no apparent relationship to the criminal or the crime:

He must dwell in the city of refuge until the death of the Kohain Gadol (High Priest).  After the death of the Kohain Gadol, the killer may return to the land of his possession.

WHY ARE WE PICKING ON THE HIGH PRIEST?  How do you think it made the Kohain Gadol feel to know that several convicts were eagerly anticipating his demise? …What did HE do wrong?

… in one respect, he WAS at fault…

Read more.


This is the weekly message at   Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.


Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel ( and chaplain in  Monsey,New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.


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Published in: on July 19, 2001 at 1:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

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