Keep your Word!
Tammuz 26 5780
These two portions, Mattot (Tribes) – Masei (Journeys) end the fourth book of the Torah Bamidbar (Numbers). Mattot emphasizes the subject of vows. Our people, Israel had made a vow to “do and obey” the Ten Commandments that Moshe had brought down from Mt. Sinai. These tablets, the Constitution of Israel, were kept in the ark in the Mishkan wherever they went and were carried by the priests at the forefront of every battle. There were rulings given for women of all ages and status within the community for vows they had made. These were given for their protection. Women at that time had fewer rights than men; very different than today; the Torah elevated the status of women.
It would take a long process to purge this fledgling nation from all the old biases that they had learned in the oppressive system under which they had lived in Egypt. With these rulings for vows, the Creator was instructing this second generation on the value of the words that came out of their mouth. Israel, who was created to be light to the world, needed to learn that people would lose trust in them when they did not keep their word. When we promise something, we must keep it. Rabbi Yeshua told us that our “yes needs to be yes and our no needs to be no”. Our words have power and hold a lot of weight. We know the damage that can be done by “lashon harah”, the evil tongue or gossip.
At the end of this portion Mattot, we read about the vengeance taken out against the Midianites and we may wonder why them and not the Moabites. The Moabites feared Israel while they Midianites did everything in their power to destroy Israel out of pure hatred or envy. This is called “sinat chinam – שנאת חינם.” The Midianites used their women to lead the men of Israel away from their God, causing Pinchas to take quick action before they were totally destroyed by the ensuing plague. The Israelites were told to kill all the Midianites. This story is difficult to comprehend from today’s perspective unless we understand that there are consequences for disobedience and treachery. We see this free hatred – antisemitism, running rampant in the world once again today. The Jews have had many “holocausts” over the centuries – the Spanish Inquisition, the Russian pogroms, the attempt of annihilation from Germany, etc., simply for the sake that we are different. We suffer when we hold hatred in our hearts against anyone without reason.
Next, we read that three tribes, Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh, preferred to stay on the other side of the Jordan and not in the Promised Land because the land where they were was better for their cattle. Moshe insisted that they fight with the others to conquer the land and then they could return to their families who had remained behind. The principle here is that the Creator guides us and shows us what He wants us to do, but we have to keep our word and to work hard for what we want. He didn’t conquer the land for us; we had to take it.
The next portion Masei, (Journeys) covers forty-two major places that Israel passed through and where they went through experiences to teach them about the consequences of their actions. Whenever they disobeyed, their journey would be extended. How often they wanted to return to Egypt where they had been slaves and how similar is it today with this younger generation living in the free world yet crying out to return to a socialist system of handouts, where the government turns them into slaves. This is a generation of entitlement whereas the Creator is teaching us through Masei that if we don’t work for it, we are not entitled to it.
Marxism teaches that “the end justifies the means”; we can do “whatever” it takes to reach the goal. The Torah teaches the opposite; although the goal is important, the journey is what counts. Each stage of our life’s journey is to teach us and make us a better person. If everything is too easily obtained, we lose the desire to grow and improve. Handouts are only for someone who has special needs, but those who are capable need to use their skills for the benefit of society and their self-worth. We are the only species with communication skills and intelligence and the Torah is teaching us about morality so that we can use these attributes with responsibility. If we do not act with moral values and integrity, society falls into chaos.
There are two systems in the world used for people to obey the rules: one is through fear and enforcement; the other is enticement and reward. The Torah teaches a third way: by personal moral decision. We do the right thing simply because it is right. We do not need to be bought, enticed, or threatened but it needs to come from our hearts. Our daily battles stem from our kavanah, our intention. That is how we are judged by our Creator. Some people play the game of being goody-goody, but the Creator is not easily deceived. Good works have little value if they are done for the wrong reason.
We have all had ups and downs in our lives. There are things that we might be ashamed of from our past, but we always have the opportunity to make them right. Let us not hold anything against anyone because we don’t know what they have been through. Simply put it in the hands of the Creator and pray for them to have their hearts opened. There are times when we just need to agree to disagree with those whose ideas are different than ours. Remember that our words have power so let us use them for good. Bamidbar ends at the border before the people can enter the Promised Land. This shows us that the goal is not as important as our journey through life.