Parashat Mattot-Massei (Numbers 30:32-36:13)

“And you shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have assigned the land to you to possess.” (33:53)

These two parashot (portions) close the book of Numbers by describing each of the 42 stops the Israelites make on their journey from Ramses to Sinai to Kadesh and finally, to the steppes of Moav.  Now God addresses the conquest and settlement of Canaan.

There is a political divide in Israel between those who want to trade land for peace and those who don’t. Those who don’t argue the land is inherently sacred (through God’s promise) and therefore “off the table.”  In truth, Jews have debated the question of the sanctity of the land for centuries.

Parashat Massei warns against shedding blood, and states that blood defiles the land (Numbers 35:33).  It continues,”Do not, therefore, defile the land which you will inhabit, wherein I dwell:  for I, God, dwell among the Israelites.” (Numbers 35:34).  Yeshayu Leiboviitz (1903-1994; Israeli scientist and intellectual), reasons if the land is inherently sacred, and God dwells in it, it is impossible to defile.  But God’s presence among the Israelites is not automatic; they must observe the Torah for God to dwell among them.  From this, Leibovitz claims it is Israelite behavior that sanctifies the land and makes it sacred.  This is an old rabbinic perspective:  the Mishnah asks:  what is holiness?  That one brings from it the omer (barley harvest) and the bikkurim (first fruits) and the showbread.” (Kelim 1:6) .  The land is sacred because of the commandments that can be performed there.  Without human agency, the land is no different than any other.  It is up to the people of Israel make the land of Israel sacred.  The question is how are we doing?

Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom,

David