Parashat Matot (Tribes)

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

This week in the diaspora we read a double Parasha which is Matot (Tribes). Numbers 30:1 to. 32:42 or Numbers 30:2 to 33:41 according to the Massoretic text. This is followed by Massei (Stages) Numbers 33:1 to 36:13. A double Parasha this week brings us back into synch with the reading cycle in Israel which has been a week out ever since Pesach. This is because we have eight days of Pesach in the diaspora rather than seven in Israel so the Shabbat after Pesach outside Israel in still part of Pesach and so a Pesach reading would be made instead of the regular Shabbat one causing us to be a week behind Israel where Pesach only lasts seven days.

We are also now in the three weeks of mourning marking the time between the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple on Tisha B’Av and this period is reflected by the three haftaroth of rebuke that precede Tisha B’Av


Any vow is binding. If you vow, you must do it.  If a girl still living in her father’s house makes what the father considers to be an ill-advised vow, he can overrule it. The same applies to the husband of a woman who does the same. However, if the husband or father says nothing then the vow still stands. A widow or divorced woman is required to fulfill the vow she makes. A husband or father must speak up immediately. He can’t wait till the unwise vow has been fulfilled and complain about it afterwards.

Revenge on the Midianites

Moses organized an Army of 12,000 is thousand from each tribe, to attack the Midianites. They slaughter them with not a man from Israel lost. They kill five Midianite kings along with Balaam the sorcerer. The scripture doesn’t make it clear but reading between the lines it seems that although Balaam did not curse Israel but rather blessed them, his blessing led to some kind of truce which ended up with the Israelites worshiping the Midianite god Peor together with them, which involved sexually immoral fertility rites.

Moses was angry because they had spared the women and children which would seem appropriate according to modern thinking on human rights. However, the boys would soon grow into fighting men and the sexually experienced women could lead Israel back into sin. Moses therefore ordered total slaughter apart from the young girls who had never slept with a man. These girls could yet grow up into brides for the Israelites and be taught Torah.

All who had killed in the battle or had been in contact with the dead had to purify themselves and their garments before reentering the camp.

The plunder was split equally between the soldiers and the rest of the community. However, those who fought only had to give a one five hundredth part to the Levites whereas the rest of the people had to give one fiftieth. The total plunder was:

675,000 sheep, 75000 cattle 61000 donkeys and 32000 young women who had never slept with a man.

When all the soldiers who had returned from the battle, they found not one man missing and in gratitude they brought all the gold and silver they had taken during the battle and brought it to Eleazer the priest in the tent of meeting.

Tribes settled east of the Jordan

The Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh found that the grazing land east of the Jordan was very fertile and suitable for pasture, and they told Moses they wanted to settle there. Moses thought that they were only saying that to get out of taking part in the invasion of Canaan. However, they assured Moses they would fight as part of the invasion of Canaan and then return to their own pasturelands and the settlements they were to build there only after the battle was won, and so it was agreed.

Haftarat Matot                                               הפטרת מטות

The Haftarah portion for Matot is Jeremiah 1:1 to 2:3 . This is the first of three Haftaroth of rebuke leading up to Tisha b’av.

Jeremiah sees two pictures. The first is an almond branch and the second is a titling boiling cauldron about to tip out its content. So, the picture is God watching over his word to perform it and impending catastrophe on Israel because of her unfaithfulness in burning incense to other gods.

Massei                                                                                 מַסְעֵי

We continue reading into Parashat Massei (stages) which starts at Numbers 33:1 to 36:13 taking us to the end of the book of Bamidbar or Numbers

Just like the Tour de France our ancestors’ journey from Egypt to Canaan was marked in stages.

Stage 1 from Ramses on the day after the Passover to Sukkot

Stage 3. from Sukkot to Etham the start of the desert

Stage 3. from Etham to Pi Hahirot

Stage 4. from Pi Hahirot through the Red Sea to Marah

Stage 5. from Marah to Elim where there was an oasis of twelve springs and seventy palm trees

Stage 6 from Elim to the Red Sea

Stage 7. from the Red Sea to the Desert of Sin

Stage 8. from the Desert of Sin to Dophkah

Stage 9. from Dophkah to Alush

Stage 9 from Alush to Rephidim

Stage 10 from Rephidim to the Sinia Desert

Stage 11 Sinai Desert to Kibroth Hattaavah

Stage 12 Kibroth Hattaavah to Hazeroth

Stage 13 from Hazeroth to Rithmah

Stage 14 from Rithmah to Rimmon Perez

Stage 15 from Rimmon Perez to Libnah

Stage 16 from Libnah to Rissah

Stage 17 from Rissah to Kehelathah

Stage 18 from Kehelathah to Mount Shepher

Stage 19 from Mount Shepher to Haradah

Stage 20 from Haradah to Makheloth

Stage 21 from Makheloth to Tahath

Stage 22 from Tahath to Terah

Stage 23 from Terah to Mithkah

Stage 24 from Mithkah to Hashmonah

Stage 25 from Hadhmonah to Mosseroth

Stage 26 from Mosseroth to Bene Jaakan

Stage 27 from Bene Jaakan to Hor Hagidgad

Stage 28 from Hor Hagidgad to Jotbathah

Stage 29 from Jotbathah to Abronah

Stage 30 from Abronah to Ezion Geber

Stage 31 from Ezion Geber to Kadesh in the Desert of Zin

Stage 32 from Kadesh to Mount Hor where Aaron died

Stage 33 from Mount Hor to Zalmonah

Stage 34 from Zalmonah to Punon

Stage 35 from Punon to Oboth

Stage 36 from Oboth to Abarim

Stage 39 from Abarim to Dibon Gad

Stage 40 from Dibon Gad to Almon Diblathaim

Stage 41 from Almon Diblathaim to Abirim

Stage 42 from Abirim to the plains of Moab opposite Jericho

There Moses speaks to the people and tells them they are to cross the Jordan and enter the land of Canaan and capture it. They are to drive out the inhabitants and cut down their idols and then divide the territory by lot according to the size of each tribe. God says through Moses that if they do not totally drive out  the peoples of the land, they would become thorns in the side of Israel and would end up doing to Israel what Israel should have done to them.

The borders of the Land

The southern border is a line from the bottom end of the Dead Sea to the Wadi of Egypt which is thought to come out into the Mediterranean in the middle of the northern coast of the Sinai Peninsula.

The western border is the Mediterranean Sea. The northern and eastern borders are hard to define but probably not much different to as it is today but including Judea and Samaria and the territories now administered by the Palestinian Authority. Also, the lands of Reuben Gad and Manasseh on the east side of the Jordan occupying a large part of what is now the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

The allotment of the land was to be overseen by Joshua and Eleazar the Priest with the help of one representative of each tribe

Levite Towns and Cities of Refuge

The Levites were to be given towns on the plains of Moab near Jericho with pastureland surrounding the towns. Forty-eight Levite towns were to be built in all and six of those were to be designated ‘cities of refuge’ where anyone who had killed another person could flee to awaiting fair trial and to escape indiscriminate revenge killing. As a rule of thumb if the killing was done intentionally, it was murder, and the death penalty was to be applied. If the killing had not been intentional the person responsible would stay in the city of refuge for protection against anyone who may wish to take revenge. The person responsible would stay in the city of refuge until the death of the High Priest after which he was free to return to his place of origin.

The daughters of Zelophehad

Last week in Parashat Pinchas  we learned how the daughters of Zelophehad were allowed to inherit their ancestral lands since their father had no male heir. Now they raise the problem of what would happen to the tribal inheritance in the event of one of them marrying into another tribe. Moses says that the issue can be avoided by ensuring that they marry within their own tribe, Manasseh,  so the inheritance would stay inside the tribe.

This brings us to the end of the book of Numbers

Haftarat Massei                                                     הפטרת מסעי           

The Haftarah reading for Parashat Massei, the second of the Haftaroth of rebuke preceding Tisha b’av is Jeremiah 2:4-28, 3:4 and 4:1-2

God lists his complaints against Israel and asks rhetorically if He had not sufficiently provided for her. Jeremiah sums up God’s feelings

‘My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water. Jeremiah 4:13

Messianic Message

The people made vows since they wanted to do something for God. Actually, there is nothing we can do for Him since He has done it all for us by dying on the Roman gibbet

“For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen”. Romans 11:36

If we wish to do anything for God or man, we don’t have to vow. We just do it because it is known that what we say can be trusted.

“All you need to say is simply “Yes,” or “No”; anything beyond this comes from the evil one”. Matthew 5:37

The Midianites had to be annihilated because left alive they would have corrupted Israel. Notice the difference in the Midianite way and Torah way of treating women. A husband or father is responsible for protecting and providing for the women in his life as we see in the laws on vows.  The Midianite way is not to see their need for care or welfare but to use them as objects of cult fornication. The Midianites are everywhere in our daily business and manifest themselves as all sorts of temptations in the workplace which are not only sexual but also taking shortcuts and bending rules and reducing our service to others to benefit ourselves. They must be annihilated. I’m not sure whether Yeshua literally expects us to gouge our eyes out, but He uses this parable to express the severity of the Midianite way of thought leading us astray. The Midianites that corrupt our thinking must be dealt with ruthlessly and brutally.

“If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. Matthew 5:29,30

Breaking down the long journey from Egypt to Canaan into stages makes it more understandable. In planning any great project, we divide it into sections to complete a little at a time to manage it better.

Becoming a disciple of Messiah is a lifelong project and as we grow, we learn that trust builds character which overcomes great challenges.

A one-thousand-mile journey starts with the first step.

Make that decision to follow Yeshua wholeheartedly and take that first step today.

This article originally appeared on the BMJA website and is reposted with permission.