This week we read two Perashot; Mattot and Mase’e.
Perashat Mattot begins detailing the laws of oaths and vows. If a person makes a vow, he or she must fulfill it. There are, however exceptions. Under certain circumstances, a husband can annul a vow made by his wife and a father can annul a vow made by his daughter. For example, If a female adolescent makes a vow within hearing range of her father or her fiancée, and he may annul the vow within the day, the vow is not binding. If he remains silent, the vow stands.
G-d commands Moshe that it is the time to exact revenge from the Midianites for their part in enticing the Children of Israel to sin. Moshe tells the people to send a thousand from each tribe. A 12,000-strong army of Israelites, led by Pinehas, waged battle against Midian; killing all adult Midianite males, along with Bilaam and Midian’s five kings, and seizing the women and children and plundering their cattle and possessions. They bring all of the spoils to Moshe and Elazar the High Priest and the entire Assembly of people.
Moshe was infuriated that the Midianite females were saved because they were the ones who seduced the Israelites and brought about the plague which killed so many. Therefore, all the males, and all women who possibly were involved in the campaign of seduction, were killed; sparing only the girls who have not participated in the seduction.
The soldiers were instructed to purify themselves from the contact with corpses during battle; they must remain outside the camp for a week. The prisoners, too, must undergo a process of purification. Their vessels of gold, silver, copper, iron, tin and lead must be purified with fire and water. Other non-metal vessels must be purified with water only. By G-ds instructions, the spoils of the war were equally divided between the soldiers and the rest of the people. Tithes of the spoils from the soldiers, at a rate of 1/500th were given to Elazar the high priest and tithes from the people at a rate of 1/50th were given to the Levites. The army officers counted the soldiers who returned from battle, and determined that every man is accounted for, not a single man was lost in the war. To express gratitude to G‑d for this miracle, the officers donated to the Tabernacle all the gold jewelry which they personally pillaged from the Midianites.
The tribes of Reuben and Gad possessed lots of cattle and flocks. They saw the eastern bank of the Jordan River—the lands of Sihon and Og which they had just conquered—was plentiful with pasture, they approached Moshe and asked him if they could remain and settle on the eastern bank. Moshe, disappointingly, responds “should you stay here while your brothers go to war? He castigated them that they are following in the footsteps of their fathers, when they were sent to spy the Land and did not want to enter the land of Israel, and discouraged the entire nation from going there. And G-d made it so that no one from that generation could enter the land, and the people wandered for 40 years in the desert because of them. The two tribes responded that they will built cities here in the eastern bank, leave their cattle and families behind, and all their men will be the first into the Land of Israel with their brethren and lead them in the conquest of the land. Only after all the land has been conquered and settled would they return to the other side of the Jordan.
Moshe accepts the promise and resolution of the Tribes of Reuben and Gad, and informs Joshua and Elazar the High Priest of the agreement, stating that only if the promise is fulfilled by these tribes, then they will be rewarded with these lands. Moshe gives the cities to the descendants of Gad, Reuben and half of the tribe of Menasheh, too. They settle on the eastern bank of the Jordan, and conquer many of the areas.
Perashat Mase’e, begins by recounting the journeys of the Jews in the desert, the 42 journeys and stops which took them from Egypt to the banks of the Jordan.
G‑d instructs the Jewish people, when conquering the Land, to eradicate all of Canaan’s inhabitants and destroy their idols. If the inhabitants were not to be driven out, they will be like needles in the eyes and thorns in the sides of the Israelites.
The borders of the land of Israel are demarcated. The land was to be allocated by lottery amongst nine and a half tribes. Smaller lands should be given to smaller tribes. G-d delineates the borders of the Land in great detail. G-d selects Joshua and Elazar to inherit the land for Moses, and one leader from each of the tribes.
G-d commands the Israelites to provide the Levites with 48 cities where they would inhabit—42 cities plus the 6 cities of refuge which would be selected where a person who inadvertently kills another, may seek sanctuary — three East of the Jordan and three in the Land of Israel. Together with these cities, the Levites shall be given areas surrounding the cities for their cattle.
The unintentional murderer may find protection in these cities so that they may have time to stand trial and be protected from vengeful relatives. He must remain in the city of refuge until the death of the serving High Priest. Of course, a premeditated and intentional murder may not seek refuge in these cities nor enjoy of its sanctuary status. The Israelites are instructed not to take bribery money from a murderer—intentional or unintentional—who wishes to lighten his verdict or avoid remaining in the city of refuge. Spilling blood by murder corrupts the Land, accepting bribery money, is corrupt, therefore, we are commanded not corrupt the Land.
The elders of the Tribe of Menasheh, the tribe of the daughters of Zelophehad, now protested to give the daughters of the deceased Zelophehad his portion in the land of Israel, as G-d instructed, because this would cause the grandsons who might be from another tribe, to inherit their mother’s properties, thereby transferring land from the portion of their tribe to another. G‑d therefore instructs Zelophehad’s daughters to marry men from their own tribe, so that the land they inherit will remain in their ancestral tribe, and inheritances will not be transferred from one tribe to the other. The daughters, therefore, marry men from their own tribe.