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

“Instruct the Israelite people and say to them: when you enter the land of Canaan,
this is the land that shall fall to you as your portion…” (Numbers 34:2)

Chalutzim is the word we use to describe the early Zionist pioneers who drain the swamps, build the roads, and establish kibbutzim, or collective communities in Palestine. The word itself comes from Parashat Mattot, one of the last two portions in the book of Numbers. Here the chalutzim are the tribes of Reuven, Gad, and half the tribe of Menasheh. They offer to be the vanguard of the Israelites, leading them into battle for the land of Canaan.

The Biblical chalutzim are warriors but they share with the Zionist chalutzim a desire to create a new, ideal society. Parashat Masei, the very last parasha, or portion, in Numbers, describes three critical principles of the ideal Biblical society. First, Israelite society is based on human needs, so the larger tribes get more land because they comprise more people (Num. 33:52). Second, humans make mistakes, so Israelite society is based on the need for second chances. Cities of refuge are established to provide asylum for someone who kills accidentally. This allows a court to examine the case and determine if there was intention or not (Num. 35:11). Finally, humans must always remain connected to the land, so Israelite cities, established for the Levities, are to be surrounded by a substantial green belt of pasture land (Num. 35:3).

The Torah acknowledges many times society will never be perfect, but it identifies an ideal to aim for: a society in which everyone’s legitimate needs are acknowledged and a reasonable way to provide for them is observed.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom


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