Matos Masai & The 9 Days 5764
A Question of Faith
This week’s double Parsha of Matos - Masai concludes the fourth book of
the Torah, Sefer Bamidbar. As Rav Hirsch explained, Sefer Bamidbar deta
trials of the Jewish people as they attempted to integrate G-d’s law into
their lives. In essence it is an account of the years in the desert from
after the Giving of the Torah concluding at the border of Eretz Yisroel
(land of Israel). The last book of the Torah, Sefer Divarim (Deuteronomy)
covers the last month of Moshe’s life and the laws, new and old, needed to
ease the nation’s transition from the miraculous existence in the desert
to the relative norms of living in the Promised Land.
The end of Matos details the special arrangements initiated by the tribes
of Reuven and Gad. They had approached Moshe requesting permission to
settle in the trans-Jordan lands of Sichon and Og. The intention was to
immediately annex the tarns-Jordan area making it part of Israel. Moshe
was first very critical of their request but afterwards presented the deal
of granting them permission in exchange for taking the point guard in the
conquest of Israel. Reuven and Gad agreed and they were able to settle
their families and herds in the lush pastures of the trans-Jordan.
What lessons can we learn from this story, especially considering its
placement at the near end of Sefer Bamidbar? Clearly, G-d wanted the
lessons of the story to linger in the minds of the nation as they prepared
to leave the desert and enter the Promised Land. Furthermore, why did
Moshe insist that half the tribe of Menashe join Reuven and Gad in their
chosen location? Why compound the problem by asking others to make the
same mistake if at first the idea deserved criticism?
The end of this week’s second Parsha, Masai, concludes the Book of
Bamidbar with the endnotes on the Daughters of Tzlaphchad. In last week’s
Parsha they asked Moshe if they would inherit their father’s estate. Moshe
informed them that the law provided for the inheritance of a daughter in
the absence of sons and they would inherit their father’s intended portion
of the Promised Land. At the very end of this week’s Parsha, the elders of
Menashe approached Moshe concerned that Tzlaphchad’s properties would
eventually transfer out of the tribe’s ownership in the event that one of
the Daughters married outside the tribe. Moshe informed the nation that
the transfer of ancestral property to a daughter restricted that daughter
from marrying outside her tribe thereby maintaining the tribal divisions
of the land. The Torah records that the Daughters of Tzlaphchad married
their uncles and stayed within the tribe of Menashe. (Note that the ruling
was only for that one generation.)
What lessons can we learn from the fact that the endnotes of the Daughters
of Tzlaphchad conclude Sefer Bamidbar and the record of the 40 years in
the desert? Is there a relationship between the Daughters of Tzlaphchad
who were from the tribe of Menashe and the deal made by Moshe with the
tribes of Reuven and Gad? Is there more than a coincidence in the fact
that the ˝ tribe sent to accompany Reuven and Gad in trans-Jordan just
happened to also be Shayvet (tribe of) Menashe?
In Parshas B’Haloscha, Moshe informed Yisro (his Father-in-law) that they
were preparing to leave Sinai and enter Eretz Yisroel. Yisro responded
that he preferred to return to his own land of origin rather than go with
them to Israel. The Ramban explains that Yisro really meant that if he was
not going to inherit a portion of land (Yisro was a convert to Judaism) he
preferred to return to Midian and teach the non-Jews of Midian rather than
go with the Jews to Israel. In past issues I explained that Yisro was not
simply being difficult or demanding. It was not a financial consideration
that bothered Yisro. Yisro understood that the land of Israel was
necessary for the Jewish people to accomplish their mission as “a light
onto the nations.” The land was a tool no different than individual wealth
or talent. If he was not going to be given a portion of the land it was
clear that G-d did not consider it necessary for him to be landed in order
to fulfill his personal mission in life. Therefore, he would return to the
place he knew best and the people with whom he was most familiar and teach
them the ways and truths of G-d.
As the nation approached the borders of Eretz Yisroel and the fulfillment
of G-d’s promise to the forefathers, the practicalities of life began to
surface. How much land will each individual receive? How will the land be
divided between the various tribes? What will happen to the ancestral
borders if daughter inherit their fathers and marry husbands from other
tribes? What do we do with all our cattle if G-d should give us a portion
of land better suited for agriculture than husbandry?
The truth is that the questions being posed at the end of the 40 years in
the desert were not any more agreeable to G-d than the concerns raised by
the nation 40 years earlier at the time of the Spies. In both instances
the questions seemed to reflect on a lack of faith and trust in G-d.
Whether issues of strategy and warfare, or land divisions and pastureland,
the assumption should have been that G-d would provide the nation, the
tribes, and each individual with exactly what they needed. If the tribes
of Reuven and Gad happen to have large herds requiring pastureland one of
two things should have happened. Either they would discover that their
allotted portion in the Promised Land was sufficient for their needs; or,
they would have to adjust their holdings to accommodate their apportioned
section. The notion of asking to annex the trans-Jordan area to better
accommodate their cattle holdings suggested a lack of trust and faith in G-
d. That is why Moshe’s immediate response to their request was to accuse
them of doing the same thing that the Spies had done! (31:10-16)
However, the daughter’s of Tzlaphchad were the perfect contrast to the
request of Reuven and Gad. They willingly placed their personal destinies
in the hands of G-d’s law. Whatever Moshe would rule in their case they
would accept. Had Moshe ruled that they would not inherit their father’s
portion of land they would have accepted G-d’s decree. To their benefit G-
d informed Moshe that they could and would inherit their father’s portion.
However, at the end of Bamidbar (Numbers) they were informed that it was
conditional on their not marrying outside of the tribe of Menashe. That
too they accepted unquestioningly as the law of G-d. For the Daughters of
Tzlaphchad, G-d’s law defined what was in their best interest. If it
wasn’t G-d’s wish it could not be to their benefit. If it was G-d’s wish
it had to be for their benefit. Beyond G-d’s law there were no other
expectations or needs.
When Reuven and Gad approached Moshe they assumed that they had a need
that had not been taken into account by G-d. (32:16) “Pens for the flocks
shall we build and cities for our small children.” The tribes of Reuven
and Gad were gifted with large herds of cattle that required pastureland.
In considering the size of the nation and the smallness of the Promised
Land, the tribes felt that they were better off staying on the east bank
of the Jordan where ample pastureland was available. However, in doing so
they also established a distance and barrier between themselves and the
rest of the nation. It meant that they would, to some extent, be on their
own in dealing with the neighboring countries. It meant that a degree of
the intensity of the Jewish experience in the land of Israel would be
compromised. The other option for them was, as mentioned previously, to
accept that whatever the land situation would be after they entered the
Promised Land would be exactly what G-d wished for them. By definition,
that had to be the best thing for them and their children.
Moshe was concerned about the request for two reasons.
1. He recognized that they had put their finances before their children.
This is indicated by the order in which the tribes asked for the trans-
Jordan lands and Moshe’s response to them. They first stated that they
wanted to build pens for their cattle and then cities for their children.
((32:16) Moshe answered by first stating they would build cities for their
children and then pens for their cattle (32:24).
2. He was concerned that their self-imposed distance would be too great a
challenge for them. Inevitably, their level of devotion and commitment
would be compromised. Therefore, Moshe insisted that ˝ the tribe of
Menashe join Reuven and Gad in settling the trans-Jordan lands.
Menashe was the oldest of Yoseph’s two sons. We are told that he was
the “translator” at the time of Yoseph’s encounter with his brothers. We
are further told that Menashe was the one who spent more time with his
father in issues of government and administration. Ephraim, on the other
hand, appears to have been more involved in scholarly pursuits. I believe
that we can conclude that Menashe was better trained to withstand the
influences of the non-Jewish world than his brother Ephraim.
I would like to suggest that Moshe attached Menashe to the tribes of
Reuven and Gad because Menashe had the qualities of his father in
surviving alone among the nations. It was Yoseph who remained so connected
to the teachings of Yakov that he not only maintained his own level of
righteousness, he was even able to raise his sons to such devotion that
Yakov said, (Ber.48:5) “Ephraim and Menashe are to me like Reuven and
Shimon!” To make sure that Reuven and Gad would maintain their levels of
commitment and devotion in spite of being away from the rest of the nation
Moshe sent ˝ the tribe of Menashe to support them and protect them.
Furthermore, as we saw from the Daughters of Tzlaphchad, the tribe of
Menashe was endowed with a special love for Eretz Yisroel (Rashi 27:1).
The love of Menashe for Eretz Yisroel would balance out the self-imposed
distance of Gad and Reuven.
(Question: What rational motivated Gad and Reuven to even ask?)
The lesson of the end of Bamidbar is very obvious. Eretz Yisroel is ours
because G-d gave it to us to use in His service. We must trust that He
provided us with all the necessary tools to accomplish our individual and
collective missions. Adjusting G-d’s plan to fit our concept of what we
need or what should be stems from a lack of faith in G-d and the
acceptance that whatever we have is exactly what we need. It wasn’t by
coincidence that the daughter’s of Tzlaphchad were born into the tribe of
Menashe and that Menashe was the tribe Moshe trusted to balance out his
concerns for the tribes of Reuven and Gad.
The Nine Days
The Nine days begin on Rosh Chodesh Av, Sunday evening July 18th, and end
Wednesday afternoon, July 28. This interval of time imitates the period
of “shiva” with some of its restrictions.
Washing and Cleaning Clothing:
It is forbidden to wash or iron clothing during the 9 Days even if done by
a non-Jew. You may give clothing to the cleaners before the 9 Days even
if they will be cleaned during the 9 Days. However, one may not pick up
the clothing until after the 9 Days.
Freshly laundered clothing:
It is forbidden to wear new or freshly laundered clothing during the 9
Days, except for undergarments and socks. All garments to be worn during
the 9 Days should be worn for a short time before the 9 Days begin. If
clothing becomes soiled and you do not have a clean change, you may wash
only that which you need. Children’s clothing that constantly get dirty
may be washed during the 9 Days. Bed linens should not be washed or
changed, except when truly needed. Purchasing new clothing, even if they
will first be worn after the 9 Days, is forbidden. Sewing and all types
of alterations are not allowed during the 9 Days. If needed, minor tears
and buttons may be mended.
Eating Meat, Chicken and drinking wine:
Eating meat or chicken is prohibited during the 9 Days. Drinking wine or
grape juice is also prohibited. These prohibitions do not extend to
Shabbos or a Seudat Mitzvah such as a Bris, Pidyon Haben or Siyum. The
custom is to have a young child drink the wine from Havadalah; however, is
there is no young child, the one making Havdalah may drink.
Bathing and washing:
Among the more difficult restrictions to keep during the 9 Days is the
prohibition against washing and bathing. Being that we are imitating the
period of “Shiva”, the expected attitude is one that “does not care” due
to the enormity of the loss suffered. It is obvious that the Rabbis
wanted us to act as if we are affected by the absence of the Bais
Hamikdash in a manner that reflects a deep sense of loss in our
relationship with G-d. Our culture, much more so than other cultures,
places a priority on personal hygiene - the Halacha takes this into
The criterion established by the Halacha is: bathing for pleasure vs.
bathing for necessity. The degree of “necessity” changes from person to
person, so the Halacha expects some modification in our personal hygiene
depending on the individual. Saunas, steam rooms, swimming, and other
forms of pleasurable bathing activities are prohibited during the 9 Days
for every one. Small children are permitted to swim, bathe, etc.;
however, we are especially vigilant during this period of time in
supervising any activity that might contain risk.
Each of us must seriously assess our level of “necessity”; however,
everyone can take a quick, lukewarm shower, rather than a leisurely hot
one, and still accommodate our “need to be clean”. Women preparing for
the Mikvah are permitted to do so in the usual manner.
Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Torah.org
The author is the Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley
Village, CA, and Assistant Principal of YULA.