Parshas Matos-Masei

July 5, 2013                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          TAMUZ 27, 5773

Parshas Matos-Masei

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Holy and Profane

By Rabbi Raphael Leban

Sarah and Rebecca were playing together quite nicely on the family room floor. So nicely, in fact, that Sarah, who was currently in the challenging process of “potty training,” couldn’t quite tear herself from playing when ‘the time’ came. When her mother returned, she found Sarah’s pants wet.

“Did you wet your pants, dear?” her mother asked her.

Sarah looked around, paused, and responded a little too confidently.

“I didn’t do it. Rebecca did it.”

What do you expect from a two-year-old?

If I asked you for the most common verse in the Five Books of Moses, you shouldn’t have to think too long. “And God spoke to Moshe, to say.” Hardly a parsha goes by without a few of them.

And it’s not surprising. God taught Moshe the Torah, mitzvah by mitzvah, so that he should teach it to the Jewish People. Almost every mitzvah is introduced that way. Here’s what God said to Moshe to say to us.

This week’s parsha stands out in stark contrast. As Parshas Matos begins, the first mitzvah the parsha teaches us starts out as follows:

And Moshe spoke to the heads of the tribes of Israel, saying, ‘This is the thing which God has commanded.’

Why the change? Why should this mitzvah be introduced initially by Moshe as God’s command, and not recorded first as a communication from God to Moshe?

The mitzvah in discussion teaches us the laws of making vows, the obligation to fulfill what one has committed oneself explicitly to do. About someone who has undertaken to do something, it says “lo yacheil devaro,” literally ‘he should not profane his words.’ Not keeping your word is called ‘profaning’ your word – profane being the ultimate opposite of holiness.

Why should this mitzvah be introduced by Moshe and not by God?

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein explains that the value of one’s word is so great and the imperative not to violate it is so important that it should be innately understood. A human being should know not to break their word. It’s almost as if Moshe himself knew to inculcate the principle in the Jewish People even before God commanded him to do so.

Think about it. Humans are the only creatures in the universe given the gift of speech. (We’re not talking about bird chirps and dolphin squeaks. Anyone who doesn’t recognize the difference between animal communication and human language has never read Tehillim (Psalms).)

With a word, you can bring a smile to a tearful face. With a promise, you can allay the worst of fears. And with a lie, you can destroy the deepest bond of trust.

The potential for sanctity inherent in speech and the obligation not to desecrate our speech should be readily apparent to all of us. Even before the Torah commands us to uphold its sanctity.

Almost even to a child of two.


By Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum

Although one might think that our awareness of the miniscule, invisible particles of matter only came about with the advent of the microscope, the Torah has directed our attention to them for millenia.

After the episode with Balak the Children of Israel were commanded to attack and annihilate the Midianites. After that mitzvah was accomplished, we were commanded to purify the vessels that we had captured from them. There are two aspects of this mitzvah. First of all, we were to purge the vessels from the absorption of any non-kosher substances. This was done by either heating the item to a very high temperature or by cooking water in the vessel until it boils, depending on the normal use of the vessel. Additionally, the item was immersed in a special pool of water, constructed with great detail, called a mikveh.

Although the absorption of particles into the pot is not visible to the naked eye, the Torah takes them into account regarding the halacha of kashering pots and pans that have been used with non-kosher ingredients.

The question remains as to why the Torah commanded the nation to expunge the captured vessels from treife absorption at this point, and not when they fought and defeated the armies of Sichon and Og. Nachmonides addresses this issue and states that the land of Sichon and Og were actually territories that were officially assigned to the Jewish people to annex to the Land of Israel. Therefore, since we were allowed to claim these lands for ourselves, we were permitted to consume non-kosher food during the battle for lands that we were entitled to. As a result, there was no need to instruct us in the finer points of these halachas until now, since they did not pertain to us as of yet.

The battle against Midian was of a different nature. We were not going to claim their land as ours; Hashem commanded us to attack them in response to Bilaam’s dastardly plan to lure us to worship idols. Therefore, we were not allowed to consume anything that was not kosher during those battles. Hence, we needed instructions about how to deal with this new problem.

It is astonishing to appreciate the perspective that a Jew must maintain in the heat of battle against a nemesis who desires to uproot our very core beliefs. The Midianites mounted a direct assault against the men of the nation, enticing them with their women and then ensnaring them to serve the idol of Peor, yet we are obliged to maintain the highest standards of conduct. Even the smallest microbes must be filtered and removed from our midst, and our camp must uphold the halacha in the strictest sense. We are expected to cross every ‘t’ and dot every ‘i’ under the most trying and difficult circumstances. And this expectation is based upon the fact the even the most seemingly minutiae of our religion are important and significant when we serve Hashem.


A Question for the Rabbis

The Torah commands us to purify utensils by immersion in a mikveh, the mitzvah known as tevilat keilim. The metals specified in the verse are “gold, silver, copper, iron, tin, and lead” (Numbers 31:22-23). Do metals not listed, such as aluminum, need to be immersed? Rav Moshe Feinstein maintains that one is not obligated to immerse aluminum utensils by Torah law, since instead of the Torah writing “all metal utensils” it specified six metals, implying that only these must be immersed. He does, however, rule that aluminum is at least like glass which according to Rabbinic decree must be immersed (Igrot Moshe, Y.D. 3:22). Rav Moshe Shternbuch agrees that aluminum must be immersed, but suggests that it may be a Biblical commandment to do so, because the Torah may have listed those metals because those were the metals that the Jews were dealing with at the time but it was not meant to be an exclusive list (Teshuvot Vehanhagot 1:451).



Sefer Bamidbar (the Book of Numbers) ends with a verse stating that, “these are the mitzvos and statutes that G-d commanded through Moshe to the nation.” The use of the additional word ‘statutes’ means that we must continuously delve into the Torah and its profound Divine wisdom.



Joke of the Week

“Somethings are better left unsaid..if only I could determine which things”

“I have a condition that renders me unable to go on a diet. I get hungry.”