There is a commandment given to Israel that once every 7 years, during the Festival of Sukkot, they should assemble ALL the people to hear the Torah read to them. (Deuteronomy 31:10-12). Chazal (a Hebrew acronym that means, “our sages of blessed memory”) instituted a continuous cycle of reading the Torah. They defined weekly sections so that Jews would be reading and hearing Torah every single week and complete the 5 Books of Moses in a set time. The teachers I learned under taught me to follow the yearly Torah cycle and I discovered that Chabad divides their Torah study into daily aliyot. When the Torah portion is read in its entirety on Shabbat in the synagogue, there are seven sections, seven aliyot. The Chabad tradition is to study one aliyah each day, starting Sunday and going through to Shabbat. One who does this can get a double dose of the same Torah Portion each week.
It’s time to explore Torah Portion Mattot-Massei Numbers 30:2-36:13, aliyah by aliyah.
Aliyah 1: Numbers 30:2-31:12
Numbers 30:3 when a man makes a vow to HaShem or formally obligates himself by swearing an oath, he is not to break his word but is to do everything he said he would do.
I picked up this idea from Rabbi Gordon of blessed memory: HaShem never asks something of others what He is not wiling to do Himself; He is the exemplar of leading by example. Applying that to this passage, we can always count on HaShem to keep His promises.
Numbers 30:4 When a woman makes a vow to HaShem, formally obligating herself, while she is a minor living in her father’s house
This law is a reflection of the culture and shows the type of caring relationship a father is to have with his daughter, especially while she is still under his roof.
Numbers 30:5 then, if her father has heard what she vowed or obligated herself to do and holds his peace, then all her vows remain binding — every obligation she has bound herself to will stand.
Women, even younger girls had the authority and ability to bind themselves to vows, even while under their father’s care. That is a good deal of autonomy.
Numbers 30:6 But if on the day her father hears it, he expresses his disapproval, then none of her vows or obligations she has bound herself to will stand; and HaShem will forgive her, because her father expressed his disapproval.
On the other hand, her authority is not final. While this can be seen as controlling or restrictive, I think it is designed to be used to protect a girl or young woman from acting rashly. As we read, we will not fin that young men have the same type of protection, they can not have their vows annulled by their father’s which exposing them to more danger from rash action.
Numbers 30:7 If, having made vows or rashly committed herself to an obligation, she gets married
This almost sounds as if this young woman got herself married through making a vow her father did not overturn. Does it read that way to you?
Numbers 30:8 and her husband hears but holds his peace with her on the day he learns of it, then her vows and obligations she has bound herself to will stand.
The young woman in this example seems to be a proven rash actor: she got stuck in a marriage to someone and has continued to bind herself with vows. This reads like a cautionary tale to me.
Numbers 30:9 But if her husband expresses his disapproval on the day he hears it, he will void the vow which is on her and the obligation to which she has bound herself; and HaShem will forgive her.
The woman passes from the custodianship of her father to that of her husband. It seems there is an exchange of autonomy for some level of security, with the patriarchal head she is under being bond to meet her needs, but also able to mitigate harm she might cause to a degree.
Numbers 30:10 The vow of a widow, however, or of a divorcee, including everything to which she has obligated herself, will stand against her.
At a certain point a woman must be responsible for her vows, it seems that widowhood and divorce put her somewhat beyond the headship of a man. I wonder if she was young enough, would a woman, either widowed or divorced possibly come under her father again and he could unbind her vows? This verse doesn’t go into that detail.
Numbers 30:12 and her husband heard it but held his peace with her and did not express disapproval, then all her vows and obligations will stand.
A husband doesn’t have to overturn his wife’s vow, but he has the option to. It would be unreasonable if it were obligatory.
Numbers 30:13 But if her husband makes them null and void on the day he hears them, then whatever she said, vows or binding obligation, will not stand; her husband has voided them; and HaShem will forgive her.
The clarification that HaShem will forgive her implies that breaking an oath is a sin. I do not know if that is stated anywhere else in the Torah.
Numbers 30:14 Her husband may let every vow and every binding obligation stand, or he may void it.
This affirms what I stated above.
Numbers 30:15 But if her husband entirely holds his peace with her day after day, then he confirms all her vows and obligations; he must let them stand, because he held his peace with her on the day he heard them.
I have heard the phrase silence is consent. Is this passage here the origin of that concept?
Numbers 30:16 If he makes them null and void after he has heard them, then he will bear the consequent guilt.
Oath breaking is a sin and the husband, not the wife will see consequences if he causes here oath to be broken after it is too late.
Numbers 30:17 These are the laws which HaShem ordered Moshe between a man and his wife, and between a father and his daughter, if she is a minor living in her father’s house.
Does a woman have to be a minor to be overrulled by her father? What if she is unmarried at 30, is she free to vow as she wishes?
Numbers 31:2 On behalf of the people of Isra’el, take vengeance on the Midyanim. After that, you will be gathered to your people.
Moses recieves his final mission from HaShem. He must know he is about to die as Miriam and Aharon did before him. I wonder if Moshe was the last living man of his generation that were decreed to die in the desert.
Numbers 31:3 Moshe said to the people, “Equip men from among yourselves for war. They are to go and fight Midyan, in order to carry out HaShem’s vengeance on Midyan.
It seems like Moshe carries out this mission without hesitation, knowing it will lead to his death.
Numbers 31:4 You are to send to the war a thousand men from every one of Isra’el’s tribes.
There are about 600,000 fighting men in Israel at this time, 12,000 men is 2% of their forces!
Numbers 31:5 So out of the thousands of people in Isra’el, a thousand armed men from each tribe, 12,000 altogether, were mustered for war.
I imagine this is an opportunity for HaShem to show His might.
Numbers 31:6 Moshe sent them, a thousand from each tribe, to the war; he sent them and Pinchas the son of El‘azar the cohen to the war, with the holy utensils and the trumpets for sounding the alarm in his care.
Pinchas, the warrior Cohen gets to go out with the army. That’s neat.
Numbers 31:7 They fought against Midyan, as HaShem had ordered Moshe, and killed every male.
HaShem brought them complete victory.
Numbers 31:8 They killed the kings of Midyan along with the others who were slain — Evi, Rekem, Tzur, Hur and Reva, the five kings of Midyan. They also killed Bil‘am the son of B‘or with the sword.
Bil’am did not escape judgement for advising the Midianites on how to ensnare Israel into sin and idolatry.
Numbers 31:9 The people of Isra’el took captive the women of Midyan and their little ones, and they took as booty all their cattle, flocks and other goods.
That seems a little odd, though they were only to completely destroy the 7 nations in Kenna’an
Numbers 31:10 They set fire to all their cities in the areas where they lived and all their camps.
Did they do this of their own will, or was it from HaShem?
Numbers 31:12 and brought the captives, booty and spoil to Moshe, El‘azar the cohen and the community of Isra’el in the camp on the plains of Mo’av by the Yarden across from Yericho.
This must be to divide the spoils as they had done before after fighting Sichon and Og, as I remeber.
Aliyah 2: Numbers 31:13-54
Numbers 31:15 Moshe asked them, “You let the women live?
This is an understandable complaint, these are the women from whom the idolatrous temptresses had come, it doesn’t seem proper or wise to take them into Israel.
Aliyah 3: Numbers 32:1-19
Numbers 32:11 None of the people aged twenty or more who came out of Egypt will see the land I swore to Avraham, Yitz’chak and Ya‘akov; because they haven’t followed me unreservedly
This includes Moshe. Do you think this is a too whom much is given, much is expected scenario? These men who died for believing the evil report all saw firsthand the miracles in Egypt and they were all of the age of accountability at the giving of the 10 Commandment and the Sin of the Golden Calf. They failed to trust despite all they had seen. Something to note, Moshe appears to Messiah alongside Eliyahu despite falling in the desert. Does that imply that the rest of that generation will be in the world to come as well, like Moshe?
Aliyah 4: Numbers 32:20-33:49
Numbers 32:33 So Moshe gave the descendants of Gad and of Re’uven, and also to the half-tribe of M’nasheh the son of Yosef, the kingdom of Sichon king of the Emori and the kingdom of ‘Og king of Bashan — the country and its cities within its borders, along with their surrounding towns.
Why is this allowed? Is the other side of the Jordan supposed to be part of the Land of Israel as well?
Aliyah 5: Numbers 33:50-34:15
Numbers 33:54 You will inherit the land by lot according to your families. You are to give more land to the larger families and less to the smaller ones. Wherever the lot falls to any particular person, that will be his property. You will inherit according to the tribes of your ancestors.
This fusion of allotment is beautiful, it spreads out the land evenly and fairly by size, but then the lots within those boundaries per tribe are sort of randomly assigned. I say sort of randomly because I am wondering how that squares with HaShem’s sovereignty. Shouldn’t it be understood that the lots fell where He willed them to?
Aliyah 6: Numbers 34:16-35:8
Numbers 34:18 Also appoint one leader from each tribe to take possession of the land.
As Moshe was passing leadership onto Y’hoshua, each tribe also needed a new leader. This make sence since the eintre previous generation of men was sentenced to die, except for Kalev and Y’hoshua.
Aliyah 7: Numbers 35:9-36:13
Numbers 35:11 you are to designate for yourselves cities that will be cities of refuge for you, to which anyone who kills someone by mistake can flee.
The foresight and wisdom in laws like this fill with with awe of and love for HaShem. It’s beautiful!
Before I go, I want to answer questions raised at the beginning of this session. These are my opinions, based on my time studying under various teachers and while I try to set aside any commentaries while examining each aliyah, I will allow myself to bring some back in for this section. I will disclose where I am getting these ideas where relevant.
- Is Annulling Women’s Vows Sexist?
- Was Moses the Last Man of His Generation?
- Why Were Reben and Gad Given Land Outside of Israel?
That concludes my journey through Mattot-Massei for the year 5782.
I hope these words have been a blessing to you.
May our Heavenly Father give you peace and joy.
This is Matthew and I am Walking In Liberty.