Thursday, July 24, 2008


The following is largely an adaptation of the ideas of Rabbi Yitzchak Twersky:

Parshat Matot/Masei discusses the implementation of the revenge on Midyan which was introduced in the previous parsha. But this revenge is only addressed after a seemingly arbitrary insertion regarding the laws of nedarim and nedavot. This needs to be explored and explained. Also, Benot Tzlofchot are discussed here at the end of Bamidbar after a break from the start of their story. This also needs to be elucidated. There is another difficulty in this parsha which is the question of the status of Ever HaYarden. The answer to the pardox of Ever HaYarden will help to make sense of the entire parsha. Therefore we will delve into the question of Ever HaYarden.

There is a dichotomy in the Torah’s presentation of Ever HaYarden. On the one hand it appears to not be part of Israel. On the other hand it seems to be part of Israel. This is illustrated by the following examples on each side of the question of Ever HaYarden

2.5 Shvatim ask permission to live there
Moshe is allowed there (Sichon/Og)
Arei Miklat are singled out from Israel’s Arei Miklat
Mishna (R’ Yosi HaGlili) says no Bikurim there

Permission was granted to the 2.5 tribes to live there.
It is conquered first in the conquest of Israel
There are Arei Miklat there (they are only in Israel)
Most Mitzvot of Eretz Yisrael apply

Makkot 2:4 states there were 6 Arei Miklat, 3 in Ever HaYarden and 3 in Israel proper (as stated inBamidbar 35:14) The mishna states that the 3 in Ever HaYarden only took effect once the 3 in Israel were established. Bamidbar 35:9-14 clearly supports ruling of the mishnah of the mishna and the idea behind it - that the Arei Miklat of Ever HaYarden only become meaningful after the crossing of the Yarden, even though they are already called Arei Miklat before the rest were set. This shows that Ever HaYarden is an extension of Eretz Yisrael, but not Eretz Yisrael proper. This thesis explains a great deal.

The underlying concept of Arei Miklat is galut-exile. ( A side point: Arei Miklat are considered galut even though they ironically only exist in Israel - thus being in this Twilight Zone-esque category of being in Israel but being a state of Galut. One can't help but wonder if this concept applies to people as well. Can one be in Israel and yet in a spiritual state of Galut? A friend of mine once said that Galut is wanting to do the right thing but not knowing what it is. It seems to me that this Ir Miklat type mixture is quite relevant to each of us today in our pre-Mashiach era of Galut. There is a traditional concept of Galut hadaat, a state of mind which can possess a person even in Israel. Another way of phrasing this is to say that there are different types of Galut, one can be in galut from one's G-d, or in Galut from oneself). .

Galut in it’s literal sense means being removed from Eretz Yisrael. Arei Miklat are unique to Eretz Yisrael because they provide a kind of in-house galut. The solution to the Ever HaYarden question is that before kivush haaretz they were not part of Israel but they would eventually be a part of Israel. The explanation for this switch is that there can be no annex to a land until ownership of that land is established.

The fact that it was specifically Moshe who designates the Areki Miklat of Ever HaYarden is revealing. This alludes to a deep connection between Moshe and Ever HaYarden. Sefer Devarim highlights the relationship between Moshe’s designating this area and the theme of Devarim, which is the process of Mishna Torah (Moshe’s words of review and farewell).

In Devarim 4:41-44, the Torah connects Arei Miklat and the presentation of Mishna Torah. ( As Ibn Ezra points out in 4:41 on the words Az Yavdil Moshe “the explanation {for Arei Miklat being discussed here} is that the day that Moshe divided these cities is the same day that he spoke his words [Mishna Torah] of Brit. ”). The connection between Ever HaYarden and Moshe’s final words is a straightforward. Moshe needed to prepare this generation for their lives in Israel before they actually entered. A most appropriate place for such preparation is a place that, just like them, was not in Israel, but would one day be in Israel.

The opening pasukim of Deveraim 1:1-5 connect Moshe with Ever HaYarden (mentioning it twice, explicitly telling us this is where Moshe was to begin his Mishna Torah speech.) Within this link there lies a consolation for Moshe; even though Moshe was told that he would not be buried in Israel, his burial spot would one day be considered a part of Israel. There was a correlation between this place and this final speech both for those who would enter the land and for Moshe himself who would not enter Eretz Yisrael proper. For those who would enter Israel, Ever HaYaeden represented hope for the future, illustrated the idea that holiness can relace the mundane, that change can occur.

We can now understand the relevance of Nedarim and Nedavot at the start of the parsha. The underlying concept of a neder or a shevua is that man can create kedusha-holiness where the Torah has not explicitly established it. In other words nedarim and nedavot teach us that we may extend Torah categories of kedusha. (This fits with the idea of The Ramban that a major concept of Judaism is Kadeish Atznecha BeMutar Lach, to sanctify ourselves by extending holiness into our regular realm).

The above mentioned concept lies at the heart of the paradoxical kedusha of Ever HaYarden. Ever HaYarden has Kedushat HaAretz due to man’s divinely granted ability to make it holy. The kedusha of Ever HaYarden is based on the power we find in hafla'ah - oath making. It is this special status of Ever HaYarden that underscores this whole section of the Torah.

Ever HaYarden became holy through the actions of the 2 and ½ tribes. In Bamidbar 32:24 they are told to prepare cities for their children, fences for their sheep and then they are told “Vahytoze MiPichem Yaasu” . This echoes almost exactly the words used in regard to making a neder or a shevua. (Bamibar:36) where it states “kol hayotze mepiv yaaseh”. After the concept of extending kedusha is laid out in chapter 30 there is a foundation that leads directly to the discussion of Moshe’s death and transition to the next generation. In 31:2 the Torah stresses that the fight with Midian was a necessary precursor to Moshe’s death.

The fact that this is a time of transition is highlighted by the appearance of the chazotozrot hatruah, 31:6. The Truah indicates transition (see Bamidbar 10). The medrish tanchuma emphasizes the point that the truah represents transition.

The fact that this is a time of transition is highlighted by the appearance of the chazotozrot hatruah, 31:6. The Truah indicates transition (see Bamidbar 10). The Medrish Tanchuma quotes Bamidbar 31:1-2,6 in which vengeance is commanded together with the blowing of trumpets. Immediately following this quote the midrash lists the way the shofar was blown in the context of transition on many occasions.

1. Erev Shabbat (to signal people to stop work )
2. Rosh Chodesh
3. All holidays (2 and 3 are learned from Bamidbar 10:10 )
4. When they traveled (Bamidbar 10:6)
5. When the kahal was gathered. (Bamidbar 10:7)
6. When they went to war against oppressors (Bamidbar 10:9)
7. When they avenged themselves against Midyan.

The war against Midyan paved the way for the transition in leadership: The Torah in chapter 31, following this battle recaps the entire journey - which began with Yitziyat Mitzrayim and ends with Kivush HaAretz - which brought them at this moment to Arvot Moav. The Torah is pinpointing the moment of great transition. The first passuk of this perek mentions the leaving of Mitzrayim through the hands of Moshe and Aharon and then highlights the end of this generation. Later Ahron’s death is emphasized (33:38-40) and the encampment at Arvot Moav (33:48-49 ). The process of leaving is emphasized here. There is a refrain of “Motza’eiheim LeMas’eihem”. The leadership of Moshe and Ahron is intrinsically linked with Yiziyat Mizrayim. The entering of Eretz Yisrael is a second separate step. The mentioning here of Arvot Moav sets the stage for the next step, the conquest of Eretz Yisrael.

In chapter 34 the second step is explained in greater detail, with the boundaries of Eretz Yisrael being presented and a list of those in charge of the inheritance of the land. After the inheritance is mapped out the Torah (chapter 35) returns to Ever HaYarden, to the Areki Miklat. The end of the sefer serves as an appropriate segue way to Devarim.

The Bnot Tzlofchad issue is a piece of the theme of transition. The daughters of Tzlofchad come forward to point out that before Moshe passes all responsibility of Kivush HaAretz to the next generation he has one final unresolved act of leadership to perform. This is why in their wording they stress that Moshe was commanded to deal with this issue. They were stressing the need for him to deal with his command so that Jewish History can be taken to the next level.

May we be inspired by the ideas of holiness and transition that are featured prominently in this parsha.


rr said...

wow to you and to Rabbi Y. Twersky. I think that it is time for me to go out and buy his book.

rabbi neil fleischmann said...

Thanks - on my own behalf and for Rabbi TwerskyI reccommend (sp?) the book. Its deep. I am idebted to him. For years it existed in an early form and I used that. It was my honor to be his colleague and have him as a department chair over the course of 10 years. Some of his ideas are availabe on his website