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The Torah's Weekly Portions
Bamidbar/Numbers - Mattot/Masei 101
Posted July, 2000
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This week, as we did earlier in the year, we are combining two Parashot - Mattot and Masei.  Parashat Mattot is encompassed from Perek Lamed, pasuk bet (Chapter 30, verse 2) through and including the end of Perek Lamed-Bet (Chapter 32).  Parashat Masei begins at Perek Lamed-Gimel and concludes with the end of Sefer Bamidbar (The Book of Numbers) 

In last week's Parashah, we talked about the Law from the standpoint that the intention is for the Law to be a foundation and to have structure but not at the cost of Justice.  At the very end of Perek Lamed-Hay (Chapter 35), we have an opportunity to understand some of value placed on ha Aretz (the Land) which today is, for the most part, the State of Israel.  In psukim lamed-gimel and lamed-daled (verses 33 and 34), we see the extraordinary relationship that is established between God, Bnei Yisrael (the Children of Jacob/Yisrael), and the Land.

33. You shall not bring guilt upon the land in which you are, for the blood will bring guilt upon the Land; the Land will not have atonement for the blood that was spilled in it, except through the blood of the one who spilled it:

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch says the following concerning verse 33 concerning the term hypocrite:

[This means] to play the hypocrite, to put on an air of piety; to present an appearance externally which by no means corresponds to the inner reality.  So that he who makes a man into a hypocrite takes away the inner kernel leaving the outer appearance unchanged.

He goes on to say that

. . . innocent blood spilt makes the land into a "hypocrite."  In Man called to near-divine freedom of will, the purpose of all earthly development and forces reaches the summit of its goal.  In every living drop of human blood which bears the nefesh (soul) of a human being, and is the means of its existence here below, heaven and earth touch each other, the earthly is mated to the heavenly; a human society to which every drop of the blood of its members is not holy, which does not take up the cudgels of innocent human blood which has been spilt, denies the purpose for which the forces of the earth work, breaks the condition upon which the soil of its land belongs to it, deceives the expectations in which the earth offers its forces, becomes a "hypocrite" to its country and makes its country into a "hypocrite" towards it.

Finally, Rav Hirsch states:

For by shedding the blood of his brother-man, [the murderer's] own blood has lost its justification, he himself had forfeited the right to go on living; and tolerating the further continuing living on of one who has deliberately and with foresight murdered a fellow-man, is an insult to and derision of the higher dignity of the conception of Man being near God, is a break of the contract under which God gave the earth to Man, under which God had given the land to Yisrael.

In previous commentaries, I have presented information concerning the extraordinary nature of the Land and its relationship to God and to Bnei Yisrael.  These excerpts and commentaries by Rav Hirsch demonstrate the responsibilities required for living in the Land.

The Parashah goes on now to cover the Land itself with pasuk lamed-daled:

34. You shall not contaminate the Land in which you dwell, in whose midst I rest, for I am Hashem Who rests among the Children of Israel:

Rav Hirsch says the following:

[Pasuk lamed-daled] is a different relation of the land to its inhabitants than that depicted in [pasuk lamed-gimel].  There the land is looked on as the basis of human existence.  The land refused the grant the inhabitants such existing if the destruction of the existence of a man by a man leaves them indifferent.  Here the land is looked on as the basis of the national social life and the Presence of God on earth.  Both, the national social well-being of the life of the people to be built up on devotion to God and His Torah, as well as the Presence of God promised to such an elevation of communal social life up to God clearly rest on the recognition and consciousness of the higher dignity and value of human life, of the recognition and consciousness of human beings in the likeness of their Creator.  If the whole of God's Torah rests on the three fundamental bases of justice, Love of fellow man, and Moral sanctification of one's own life, then the whole Torah stands or falls with the recognition and consciousness or the denial and repudiation of the higher dignity and value of human beings being in the likeness of God!  Justice rests on the recognition of one's brother men being in the likeness of God, sanctification of morals and love rest on the recognition of one's own self being in that likeness.  If Man is only in the likeness of animal, purely a physical being like all living creatures around him in the Creation, then force, and selfishness and life, there can be no talk of Justice and Love and sanctification of morals; then "physical lack of freedom," "necessity" with all its consequences of force and depravity is the exclusive stamp of the earth and human life, then it is the animal-ideal to which the tribute of worship is paid in home and state, or individual and national life, then for God, the One to be recognized and acknowledged in Justice, Love and Morality, for Him there is no place on earth.

It is clear that Bnei Yisrael has an awesome responsibility with regard to the Land and with regard to all of mankind.  It is just as clear that the Land and its relationship to God is unchanging.  The relationship that the land has with the children of Israel provides a most accurate barometer as to how well Bnei Yisrael is fulfilling its missions.  As stated previously in these commentaries, it is my belief that Ahavat Yisrael is the most key issue and that everything else follows after.  The Torah, with these two psukim, seems to bear that out.


Translations in Torah Portions of the week are partially taken from the ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash and from Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Chumash

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