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Parshat Mattot-Masei

The final chapters of the Book of Numbers, read together, begin with an explanation of a woman's vows. Essentially, they are null and void--that is, unless the man responsible for her (like her father or husband)--is aware of them. In that case, the woman in question is on the hook. The promise of an independent woman (in this historical context a "widow or divorced woman" as opposed to someone who happily chooses to live alone) "....shall be binding upon her". Moses announces that a thousand men from each tribe must be selected to "fall upon Midian to wreak the Lord's vengeance on Midian". With evangelical Pinchas "serving as a priest on the campaign", this army "(slays) every male" and the Midianite kings, including "Balaam son of Beor" who figured prominently a few weeks ago in the story of the talking donkey.

When the Midianite women and children are taken captive, Moses is outraged since these females "...are the very ones...who induced the Israelites to trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor". Earlier, these sexpots seduced the Israelite men, leading them to paganism. In response, G-d unleashes a terrible plague on His people. (And my son thinks Shabbat Mom is tough on the subject of in-marriage!) Moses orders that every male child and every adult woman be killed--except for the virgins. The extensive booty is to be equally divided once "You shall exact a levy for the Lord." And now we come to the settlement of The Promised Land. The Reubenites and the Gadites, heavy with cattle, ask to set up shop in the area known as the Transjordan, just before the crossing of the Jordan River, arguing that this area, too, is promised by the Lord and that it will be good for their herds. Moses agrees as long as their men agree to serve as "shock-troops in the van of the Israelites until we have established them in their home..." Mas'ei records in one place the 40-year, circuitous itinerary of the Israelites from the moment they leave Egypt until they are poised to enter the holy place that, thousands of years later, remains the Jewish homeland and 70 years ago became the magnificent modern State of Israel. (The medieval map pictured above represents the Israelite's journey based on the Biblical text, a gift from dear friends.) "'When you enter the land of Canaan,'" the Lord tells Moses, "'this is the land that shall fall to you as your portion, the land of Canaan with its various boundaries...'" G-d then details each of those lines in the sand, a Holy roadmap that remains deeply relevant (though admittedly complex) until today.

There's no place like home! Shabbat Shalom!

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