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Parashat Matot-Masei (Numbers 30:32-36:13)

“Moses said to the children of Gad and the children of Reuben,
‘Shall your brothers go out to battle while you settle here?’” (Numbers 32:6)

We read two parashot (portions) this week because of how the Jewish calendar is calculated. The moon’s cycle determines the months, but the sun’s cycle determines the year. Therefore, a Jewish year can have from 50 to 55 weeks. Since there are always 54 parashot, some years require certain parashot to “double up” on a given Shabbat.

Parashat Matot-Masei closes the book of Numbers by describing each of the 42 stops the Israelites make on their wilderness journey from Ramses to Sinai to Kadesh and finally, to the steppes of Moav. Then the parasha, or portion, turns to the conquest and settlement of Canaan.

God tells Moses to tell the Israelites, “… When you come into the land of Canaan, zot ha-aretz, this is the land that shall fall to you as your possession …” (Num. 34:2) For forty years the Israelites have heard about and imagined the land; now they are about to confront the land’s reality. It is not easy to set aside preconceived notions, good or bad, and see things as they really are. So Moses offers two warnings to the people: “lo tachanifu et ha-aretz.., do not pollute the land and “v’lo t’tame et ha-aretz, do not defile the land…” (Num. 35:33-34)

Rabbi Pinchas Peli (1930 – 1989; Israeli rabbi, poet, professor, and philosopher) says lo tachanifu also can mean do not flatter. Now Moses is warning the Israelites to beware the human inclination to prejudge situations: don’t be blindly optimistic or pessimistic. Don’t close your minds. Be open and honest: this is the land. It contains both good and bad. Don’t dwell in fantasy. Deal with reality.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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