June 23, 2024
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What Connects Matot and Masei?

The combination of these two sections of the Torah constitutes the question, raised by all the commentators over the ages, as to whether there really is a connection between these two parshiot or is it just a matter of calendar convenience that unites them in one Torah reading on this coming Shabbat.

I’ve always believed that there are no random occurrences or events in the Torah and the other holy writings. Therefore, there must be a connecting bond, a common denominator, that unites these two apparently disparate and different sections of the Torah. I feel that the relationship between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel is the connecting link between Matot and Masei.

In Parshat Matot, we are told of the request of the tribes of Reuven and Gad to settle themselves, their families, their flocks, their wealth and their talents outside the strict borders of the Land of Israel. They point out to Moshe all the advantages that they would enjoy if he allowed them to take their share in the Land of Israel east of the Jordan River. Moshe resists their plan and sharply criticizes them for advancing it publicly. However, he is powerless to change their minds and their demands. He reaches an agreement with them. They will participate in the conquest of the Land of Israel and not forsake their brothers in the struggle to conquer the land for all the tribes of Israel. However, it is obvious that even this result was a disappointment—to settle on the eastern side of the Jordan River. Advancing in history, we see that centuries later, the tribes of Reuven and Gad were the earliest ones who were forced into exile, losing their land and independence.

In Parshat Masei, we have the entire list of all the stations that the Jewish people encountered during their sojourn in the desert of Sinai. Rashi is quick to point out that every one of these places held memories for the Jewish people. They were not just simply names of places but, rather, descriptions of past events; each place involved a challenge and a test.

Judaism is not a religion of convenience. Its values are demanding, insistent and unwavering and require self-sacrifice. It was convenience that led the tribes of Reuven and Gad to prefer the pasture lands of Transjordan over the Land of Israel itself. In our time, many Jews, if not the majority, have again chosen to live outside the confines of the Land of Israel. It is certainly not my role to criticize them for this choice, but I would merely make the observation that for almost all these Jews, it is a matter of convenience. Remembering fondly all the stations that we have experienced over our long exile trip through the world may create within us a feeling of nostalgia, but it is only because we do not directly face the lessons of exile that we have had to endure much suffering and hardships. Again, there may be many Jews who have good reasons to live outside the Land of Israel but that doesn’t change the historical fact that only in the Land of Israel do the Jewish people have a future, and only there will they be able to truly fulfill the mission set forth for them at Mount Sinai.


Rabbi Berel Wein is senior rabbi of Beit Knesset HaNassi in Jerusalem and director of the Destiny Foundation.

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