MATOS-MASEI (Numbers, 30:2-36:13) — “One Small Step for a Man…”

I drove to Montreal last week.  First, I pulled out of my driveway.  Then I went to the bottom of Dolson Road and turned right on College. After a left on Highview, I turned right and drove north on the New York Thruway…

Are you bored yet?  Could you care less about each of the turns I made on my way to Montreal?  Would you like to know where I stopped for gas and coffee?

No one is interested in hearing the unimportant details of another person’s life.  If I wanted to talk about my trip, I would be more likely to focus on the purpose of my trip, and what I did at my destination.

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The commentaries are troubled by the Torah’s verbosity in describing the 40-year itinerary of the Israelites in the desert.  The trip, which should have taken eleven days (Deut. 1:2) was extended to forty years as a punishment to the Israelites for not wanting to enter the Land.  (See “I’m Gonna Do What You Want … Whether You Like It or Not!”) And so, they meandered around:

These are the journeys of the Israelites…These were their stops along the way…The Israelites left Ramses and camped in Sukkos. They left Sukkos and camped in Esam at the edge of the desert...”  (Numbers, 33:1-2, 5-6)

The Torah goes on to give us a stop-by-stop detail of the trip.  While there are a few historical details, such as “They left Alush and camped in Rephidim, where there was no water for the people to drink,” (verse 14) most of the verses simply tell us, “They left…and camped in…”

Why does the Torah go into such minute detail?  Do we really care where they stopped along the way to the Land of Canaan?

Rashi explains that the Torah is showing us that even the 40-year punishment was meted out with compassion.  We envision the poor Israelites, shlepping from place to place with all their worldly possessions, never having a chance to rest and catch their breaths.  Actually, they didn’t move all that often.  The Torah tells us about 42 moves during those 40 years.  Additionally, says Rashi, in view of the fact that they moved fourteen times in the first year, and eight times in the last year, they actually only moved 20 times in 38 years. (I moved 11 times in the first 16 years after I got married. They had a better ratio than I did!)

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I would like to suggest another answer.  From the moment we are born until the time we draw our final breath, we are exposed to life’s experiences.  Everything we see, everywhere we go, changes us forever, for good or for bad.

If I were to try to figure out how many coincidences led to my meeting my wife, I would never succeed. Who could have predicted that I would HAPPEN to be in a certain place, and meet a certain person who recommended I study in a certain Yeshiva where a certain person would mention a certain young lady to someone else who would mention her to me? I have a wonderful job, working with the elderly in a retirement home. This job came as a very indirect result of the fact that 29 years earlier, my parents decided to send me to high school in Providence Rhode Island. (Should I say “Divine Providence?” :-)) I won’t bore you with all the details.  The point is that each and every experience molds us and affects us. Nothing is irrelevant. If any of these steps had been omitted, there would have been a very different outcome.

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Doesn’t it behoove us, then, to make sure that each day is lived to the fullest?  Shouldn’t we make sure that that every day is spent in the pursuit of spiritual growth?

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 he builds a spiritual bond with his children through observing the Sabbath.  Nothing infuses one’s life with an awareness of our Creator more than taking off one day a week to reflect on the sublime.

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 have a television.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

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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:

FIRST PORTION – MATOS

“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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SECOND PORTION – MASSEI

“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.    

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com) 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 3, 2002 at 10:26 am  Comments (2)  

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. “He doesn’t have a television.”

    As long as he doesn’t prevent his kids from playing with kids that have televisions, g’eh g’zinte heit…

    • Actually, that might defeat the purpose…


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