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

“For the western boundary you shall have the coast of the Great Sea;
that shall serve as your western boundary.” (Numbers 34:6)

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 (including leap years, which add an entire month) can have from 50 to 55 weeks. Since the number of parashot doesn’t change, some years require certain parashot to “double up” on a given Shabbat.

Parashat Mattot-Masei catalogues the 42 stops the Israelites make in the desert. Reb Yitzchak of Vorka (1779–1848; Chassidic leader) interprets at least one stop as a metaphor for life’s struggles..

Reb Yitzchak plays with the Hebrew of the verse, “They left kivrot hata-avah and camped in chatzerot.” (Num. 33:17) to form a question: How can you lik’vor (bury) your ta-avah (lust), thereby subduing your yetzer hara, or evil inclination? The end of the verse provides the answer: by remembering this world is just a chatzer, a yard, in front of the house. Reb Yitzchak is relying here upon an image in Pirkei Avot, “This world is like a corridor before the world-to-come: prepare yourself in the corridor so you may enter the banquet hall.” (4:16) Masei provides Reb Yitzchak with a prooftext for linking the national journey to the classic rabbinic view of the individual’s lifelong struggle to manage the yetzer hara so as to prepare for eternal life in the world-to-come.
Masei is the final parasha in Numbers. It is customary (in the Ashkenazic, or European tradition) to stand up and say, “Chazak, chazak v’nitchazek,” (Be strong, be strong, and let us summon up our strength.) at the end of the reading.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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