MATOS-MASEI (Numbers, 30:2-36:13) — “Hey! Ya Never Know!”

After forty years of traveling in the desert, the Israelites were preparing to inherit the Land of Canaan (Israel).

How would the land be divided?  There were millions of people, members of thirteen tribes, (Joseph’s descendants were divided into two tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh) and they all needed somewhere to live.  Two and a half tribes were staying on the East Bank of the Jordan.  (See “First Things First!”)  The Levites weren’t going to inherit land, living instead among the various tribes, and in special Levitical Cities.   (See “Say A Little Prayer For Me”)  That still left 9½ “homeless” tribes, waiting to determine who was to go where.

Moses commanded the Israelites saying, “This is the Land that you will inherit by lottery, which G-d has commanded to give to the nine and a half tribes.”  Numbers, 34:13)

By lottery?  Was it all going to be left to chance?  What if a particular tribe had special needs?  Are you going to simply pull a piece of paper out of a hat and tell me where my family has to live forever?

We don’t see any reference in the Torah to anyone challenging the lottery system.  It does, however, come up in the Book of Joshua.

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As the song goes, “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, and the walls came tumblin’ down.” 

Joshua gave orders that no one was to take any spoils of war from Jericho.  The entire city, captured by miracle, was to be devoted to G-d.  The precious metals were to be given to the Temple treasury, and everything else was to be burnt.

Achan, son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerach, of the Tribe of Judah (Joshua, 7:1) had other ideas.  He came across a gold bar, two hundred shekels of silver, and a Babylonian coat.  Thinking no one would be the wiser, he hid them in his tent.

G-d took this crime very seriously, blaming the entire nation (for not guarding the spoils of Jericho):

Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My Covenant which I commanded them; and they have also taken of the consecrated thing…because he has perpetrated an immoral act in Israel” (Verses 11 and 15)

Achan was not a wonderful fellow.  The Talmud (Sanhedrin, 44a) interprets the above verses as indicating that he had committed several sins.  He was among the early advocates of circumcision reversal.  (I won’t elaborate.  Those of us in my line of work prefer to view the Covenant as permanent.) He had committed adultery.  He is considered to have violated the entire Five Books of the Torah.

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.  Until that happened, G-d would withhold His protection from the nation.  Using a lottery, Joshua narrowed down the list of “candidates” from the Tribe of Judah, to the descendants of Zerach, to the descendants of Zabdi, and finally, to Achan himself.

Joshua confronted Achan directly: “My son, please give honor to the G-d of Israel, and confess to Him.  Tell me what you have done; don’t hide anything from me.”  (Verse19)

The Talmud tells us that 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.  After all, he asked Achan to confess: “My son, please give honor to the G-d of Israel, and confess to Him.”

In reality, Joshua had no doubts as to who the guilty party was.  He knew that the lottery was accurate.  He had a different concern.  “Please,” he begged.  “Don’t cast aspersions on the lottery system.  The Land of Israel is going to be divided by lottery!”

Joshua feared that if THIS lottery were put into question, people would begin to write off lotteries as nothing more than mere coincidence.  If that were to happen, there would be discord over the distribution of land as well.

Achan still wouldn’t cooperate.  It was only when some of his relatives rallied to his defense, threatening a civil war, that he came clean.  He wasn’t all bad.  He didn’t want to see innocent people killed on his account.

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Did you ever notice that lottery winners tend to be obscure cleaning ladies and out-of-work janitors?  It’s always somebody else!  Why can’t it be me?  Why do THEY benefit from the coincidence?

It’s because G-d wants them to.

The New York Lottery tries to attract customers with the slogan, “Hey! Ya Never Know!”  And they’re right.  You never do know.  But G-d?  He knows!

[By the way, I have always had a personal policy when it comes to lottery tickets; I never buy more than one.  My reasoning is simple.  If, for example, the odds of winning a particular lottery are one in sixty million, it will take a miracle for me to win.  If I buy TWO tickets, increasing my odds to one in thirty million, it will still take a miracle for me to win.  I can’t afford to buy enough tickets to take the odds out of the realm of miracle.  If and when G-d is prepared to do a miracle and make me a millionaire, why should I spend two dollars for the miracle instead of one?]

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 15, 2004 at 10:15 am  Leave a Comment  

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