Mattos/Masei 5782


The torn garments; the torn tribe[1]

ויתן להם משה לבני-גד ולבני ראובן ולחצי שבט מנשה בן-יוסף את-ממלכת סיחן מלך האמרי ואת-ממלכת עוג מלך הבשן וגו’‏
Moshe gave to the tribe of Gad, the tribe of Reuven, and half of the tribe of Menashe, the son of Yosef, the kingdom of Sichon, the king of the Emorites, and the kingdom of Og, king of the Bashan…[2]

The Torah describes an interesting interaction between the tribes of Reuven and Gad[3]. They had abundant flock, and noticed that the recently conquered land on the East side of the Jordan river was suitable for flock. They requested to Moshe that they stay on that side of the river, and not join their brothers into the Land of Israel proper, on the west side of the Jordan. After a whole back and forth, Moshe eventually agreed to their request. Seemingly out of nowhere, Moshe also decided to allocate some of this land for half of the tribe of Menashe. They seemingly didn’t request this, so why did Moshe do this[4]? Also, why only half the tribe, and not the whole tribe?

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Pinchas 5782


Beyond our assumptions[1]

אלה בני בנימין למשפחותם ופקודיהם חמשה וארבעים אלף ושש מאות: אלה בני דן למשפחותם וגו’ ארבעה וששים אלף וארבע מאות
These are the children of Binyomin according to their families: their count came to 45,600. These are the children of Dan according to their families…64,400[2]

Parshas Pinchas contains yet another census. No wonder this is called the book of Numbers[3]. If we analyze the counts of the individual tribes, we’ll notice some interesting patterns and observations. Something noteworthy is the adjacent counts of the tribes of Binyomin and Dan. The total number for the tribe of Binyomin was forty-five thousand, whereas the total number for the tribe of Dan was sixty-four thousand. Why is this significant?

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Balak 5782


A Greedy nature[1]

ויען בלעם ויאמר אל-עבדי בלק אם-יתן-לי בלק מלא ביתו כסף וזהב לא אוכל לעבר את-פי יקוק אלקי לעשות קטנה או גדולה
Bilaam answered and said to the servants of Balak: “[Even] if Balak gave me the entirety of his treasury, silver and gold, I wouldn’t be able to transgress the word of Hashem, my G-d, to do something small or large”[2]

The Moabite King Balak had a plot to hire the sorcerer Bilaam to curse the Jews. Besides his occult abilities, Bilaam was a renowned non-Jewish prophet. He had direct communication with G-d. When Bilaam heard that Balak wanted his help, he responded in the negative. He stressed that even if Balak would give him all of the riches in the world, Bilaam admitted he couldn’t go against Hashem’s will. Rashi, quoting our Sages, tells us[3] that this teaches us that Bilaam had a greedy nature.

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Chukas 5782


Fiery snake bites[1]

וידבר העם באלקים ובמשה למה העליתנו ממצרים למות במדבר וגו’ וישלח יקוק בעם את הנחשים השרפים וינשכו את-העם וגו’ ויבא העם אל-משה ויאמרו חטאנו כי-דברנו ביקוק ובך התפלל אל-יקוק ויסר מעלינו את-הנחש ויתפלל משה בעד העם: ויאמר יקוק אל-משה עשה לך שרף ושים אתו על-נס והיה כל-הנשוך וראה אתו וחי: ויעש משה נחש נחשת וישמהו על-הנס וגו’‏
The nation spoke against G-d and Moshe: “Why did you take us out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?!”… Hashem sent against the nation the nechashim haserafim (stinging snakes), and they bit the people… The nation came to Moshe and said: “We have sinned! For we have spoken against G-d and you. Pray to G-d to remove from us the snakes”. Moshe prayed on behalf of the nation. Hashem said to Moshe: “Make for yourself a saraf (snake; lit. burning/stinging), and place it on a staff, and it will be that all who were bitten will look at it and live.” Moshe made a copper nachash (snake), and placed it on the staff…[2]

As the verses describe, the Jewish nation spoke rudely against Hashem and against His servant Moshe. The resulting punishment was Hashem unleashed against them a swarm of snakes, described in the verse as the nechashim haserafim, the stinging snakes. They bit the people, and many died. The nation repented, and Moshe prayed that the threat be removed. Hashem told Moshe to make some sort of statue of a snake, and called it a saraf. The verse then tells us that Moshe made a copper nachash, which means snake. How did Moshe know to make the statue out of copper? Rashi tells us[3] that since Hashem told Moshe to make a nachash, His intent must have been a copper one, since the Hebrew word for copper is nechoshes, etymologically related to nachash. The obvious question on this is that Hashem told Moshe to make a saraf, not a nachash[4]. If they’re the same thing, why is the Torah inconsistent in its terminology[5]? If they’re not the same thing, what is Rashi saying[6]?

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