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Parshiyyot Matot-Masei 5778 — 07/14/2018

Parshiyyot Matot-Masei 5778 — 07/14/2018

Joyeux Bastille Day!

Matot: Bamidbar 30:2 – 32:42
Mas’ei: Bamidbar 33:1 – 34:29

In parashat Masei Moshe Rabbeinu occupies himself with several mitzvot that would only come to fruition once the nation actually entered the Land. Most prominent is the designation of 3 of the 6 “cities of refuge” where an unintentional killer could flee to escape the wrath of the victim’s relatives. Of the 6, 3 were on the west side of the Jordan and 3 on the east. Moshe, of course, would not cross the Jordan and therefore could only designate the 3 on the east side, in the land conquered from the Amorites, Sichon and Og, and where the tribes of Reuven and Gad, and part of the tribe of Menashe, were to be settled. The other four mitzvot that Abarbanel identifies are: Conquest of the Land and purifying it of idolatry; establishing the borders of the country; division of the Land among the tribes and designating the Levitical cities (42 cities in addition to the 6 Cities of Refuge).

Abarbanel asks why these mitzvot had to be given now. For example, the details of the borders of the Land of Israel could have been given to Yehoshua, at a time when it was actually relevant. The same is true with the Levitical cities – at the time when Moshe transmitted that mitzvah the nation had no cities to give. So why did Moshe Rabbeinu have to be involved at all?

Abarbanel has an interesting answer to this question. Recall that the 40 years of wandering in the desert are just about over, the nation is about to cross the Jordan – without Moshe Rabbeinu, who is in the last few weeks of his life. Any one of us, were we in Moshe’s position, on the borders of a Land he had worked for 40 years to bring his fractious group of ex-slaves to, but would not himself see, would be mightily disappointed, even distraught. I believe Moshe was on too high a level of consciousness to be so deeply affected, but Abarbanel argues that Gd felt the need to mollify Moshe in some way. He says, “Gd tells Moshe to communicate these particular mitzvot to the people so that he will have a connection to them even though he will not witness their implementation.” Certainly Moshe was not to witness their implementation on the material level, but is that the only level with which Torah is concerned? Is there more to this story than just Gd’s placating Moshe or giving him a consolation prize?

We have discussed on many occasions that creation is structured in layers – in physics we have the molecular layer, the atomic layer, the subatomic layer, all the way down to the unified field. The entire physical creation is a complex pattern of vibration of this one field – thus all the laws of nature are structured in this unified field. Our esoteric tradition tells us that the same thing is true at the most fundamental level of all of creation, spiritual as well as physical. There are fundamental vibrations of the underlying field from which all of creation springs, and these fundamental vibrations are captured by the sounds, the grammar, and the semantics of the Hebrew language. The sequence of sounds that are Torah are an exact mapping of the fundamental vibrations of the cosmos into human speech and their interactions. Presumably the mitzvot of Torah are actual physical performances which create a more harmonious interaction between the different objects and structure on all levels of Gd’s worlds. This is the original meaning of tikun olam = repairing of the world.

Now let us return to Moshe Rabbeinu’s situation. He is not going to enter the Land of Israel and physically carry out these mitzvot. In fact, as Abarbanel points out, all of these mitzvot are incumbent on the community as a whole, not on any one person. So even if he had entered the Land, he would not have been able to perform these mitzvot in the same way as, for example, he could have put on t’fillin or shaken a lulav. But that is only on the surface level. What about on subtler levels?
We have a clue to this in the Talmudic dictum that if one intends to do a mitzvah, but is prevented from carrying it out (for example, because one dies before the opportunity to complete the mitzvah becomes available) it is credited to him as if he had actually performed the mitzvah. Apparently thoughts, which are more subtle than actions, can count as much, at least under certain circumstances. One is not punished for bad intentions that are not carried out, except in the case of idolatry. So apparently when one’s intentions are for a mitzvah, to some extent at least the tikun olam is effected, perhaps because nature supports efforts at purity. If one’s intentions are damaging to nature, then they don’t get any support, and one must bring them into actuality for there to be a substantial reaction (“punishment”).

Now Moshe Rabbeinu was operating at the most subtle level possible – he was able to “hear” the fundamental vibrations of creation, viz. the Torah, and convey it to Israel. In this case, his intention to perform these 5 mitzvot, coming as it did from the “unified field” level, may have been powerful enough to structure, if not the actual fully manifested reality, at least enough to establish a firm basis on which Israel and its leaders could build.

In this regard, I think we can find additional significance to the Midrashim that run along the lines, “Had Moshe entered the Land of Israel he would have built/accomplished X which then would never have been able to be destroyed.” I think what these Midrashim mean is that by receiving the Torah from Gd, Moshe was passing on the blueprint for an ideal society, structured according to the same laws and principles that structure the cosmos. In the case of our 5 mitzvot, he went a step further and partially manifested them. Had he been able to enter the Land, he would have been in an environment where he could have manifested them fully – for example, built the Temple. But in that case he would have manifested that mitzvah with a perfection that could never be destroyed. Unfortunately, the rest of the nation was (and still is) on a much lower level, and could never have sustained the level of perfection Moshe Rabbeinu would have manifested. Moshe could not enter the Land for our own safety, until we grow up and finally deserve him.

Do you remember the story of the Promised Land?
How he crossed the desert sands
And could not enter the chosen land
On the banks of the river he stayed
To face the price you pay
The Price You Pay Bruce Springsteen (sung by Emmylou Harris)


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parshiyyot Matos-Massei

Parshat Mattos begins with Moses declaring that Gd has said whatever we vow to Gd to do or to refrain from doing, we must do or refrain from; the exceptions are a daughter’s vow may be annulled by her father and a wife’s by her husband at the time of hearing the vow. Rashi adds a third and fourth source of annulment, based on the fact that Moses spoke these word to the princes and not to all Israel: a single expert may annul (The Lubavitcher Rebbe says “a sage”) or three laymen.

I found the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s discussion particularly helpful: he presented the view that we need to bind ourselves to Gd as the Father and let nothing stand between us and His Will — knowing it and doing it. Similarly, we need to betroth ourselves to Gd and do his will so the bondage of the world is annulled and we rise to the state of marriage to Gd, in Oneness, with the “children” of our marriage being our good deeds

We must rise to the level of marriage with Gd in which with Gd’s help we annul the bonds that keep us and our world in illusion, concealing Gd’s Presence: “nullifying in himself and the world, the masks of illusion that hide Gd’s presence from man”. And this power is “retroactive,” that is, beyond the normal limitations of time and space. Just as a vow binds, and an annulment breaks the bond, so he, with the help of Gd, releases the world from its bondage, from falsehood, finitude and the concealment of Gd.

Our Tradition helps us move in this direction.

Why did Gd choose Joshua and Eleazer to lead to and inherit the Promised Land even though they were less than Moses, a prophet never equaled in the life of Israel?

The same principle that the Lubavitcher Rebbe uses in reference to annulment of vows by father or betrothed or husband, applies here:
Neither Moses nor Joshua nor Eleazer was the real leader, the real shepherd, the real High Priest: Gd is the Leader, the Shepherd, the High Priest.

As David puts it in Psalm 23 “The Lrd is my Shepherd, I shall not want; he leadeth me to lie down in green pastures, besides the still waters. He restoreth my soul…”

And in Joshuah I:5-9, Gd puts it this way to Joshuah:
“5 No man shall stand up before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so shall I be with you. I will not weaken My grasp on you nor will I abandon you.
כַּאֲשֶׁר כּלֹ ימְֵי חַיּיֶ א יתְִיצֵַּב אִישׁ לְפָניֶ ה
א וְ א אַרְפְּ הָייִתִי עִם משֶֹׁה אֶהְיהֶ עִמָּ
6 Be strong and have courage; for you will cause this nation to inherit the land that I have sworn to their ancestors to give to them.
וחֲזַק ואֱֶמָץ כִּי אַתָּה תַּנחְִיל אֶת הָעָם הַזֶּה
אֶת הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר נשְִׁבַּעְתִּי לַאֲבוֹתָם לָתֵת
7 Just be strong and very courageous to observe and do in accordance with all of the Torah that Moses My servant has commanded you. Do not stray therefrom right or left, in order that you succeed wherever you go.
זרַק חֲזַק ואֱֶמַץ מְאדֹ לִשְׁמרֹ לַעֲשׂוֹת כְּכָל
משֶֹׁה עַבְדִּי אַל תָּסוּר הַתּוֹרָה אֲשֶׁר צִוְּ
מִמֶּנּוּ ימִָין וּשְׂמאֹול לְמַעַן תַּשְׂכִּיל בְּכלֹ אֲשֶׁר
: תֵּלֵ
8 This book of the Torah shall not leave your mouth; you shall meditate therein day and night, in order that you observe to do all that is written in it, for then will you succeed in all your ways and then will you prosper.
והְָגִיתָ א ימָוּשׁ סֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה הַזֶּה מִפִּי חבּוֹ יוֹמָם ולַָילְָה לְמַעַן תִּשְׁמרֹ לַעֲשוֹֹת כְּכָל
ואְָז הַכָּתוּב בּוֹ כִּי אָז תַּצְלִיחַ אֶת דְּרָכֶ
9 Did I not command you, be strong and have courage, do not fear and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

So Gd guides Joshuah and Eleazer as he guided Moses and what Joshuah and Eleazer do is Gd’s will—not less than Moses’ actions: perfect!

When we open ourself innocently to Gd, to Wholeness, Oneness—our actions are fully guided, perfect!

Baruch HaShem