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R' Feldman's Derasha - Parashat Matot-Masei (August 3, 2019)

08/06/2019 11:14:58 AM


Jews in Israel and the diaspora finally come together this week in reading the same Parasha.  It’s been about 15 weeks since the end of Pesach, when we first got separated. We’ve skipped many chances to catch up, many Parashiot which are indeed sometimes together and sometimes not.  But we in the diaspora did not read them together until now.    

The short reason for this is that the reading schedule we follow has other priorities which outweigh whether all communities are unified in the reading.  

But at last we combine the Parashiot this week. These two belong together because they flow and intertwine quite well.  Between the two Parashiot, there are seven sections. The chapter system we use was created by monks but they do get things right at times.  It happens to be that the seven sections are spread out over seven chapters, from 30 - 36.  

The sections are these:

  1. The possibility of creating a new prohibition by taking a vow
  2. The battle against Midyan 
  3. The discussion with the children of Gad and Reuven about whether they can stay on the other side of the Jordan river, in the area called “Ever HaYarden.”
  4. The listing of the journeys through the desert.
  5. The boundaries of the land of Israel and the inheritance once the Jordan river is crossed
  6. The instituting of cities of refuge
  7. Solving the problem of tribal intermarriage through the case of the daughters of Tzelafchad.

The sections fall under two broad headings: Either readying for the entrance into the land or the inheritance of the land itself.  What’s fascinating is that the seven sections deal with these two topics not serially but in a way that intertwines them. Sections 1, 3, 5, and 7 are about taking care of prerequisites for entering the land while sections 2, 4, and 6 are about the inheritance itself.  

But the ultimate lesson here comes through understanding section one, about vows, and the status of this ambiguous place we refer to as Ever HaYarden, the place just over the Jordan River.  

The power to make vows seems like it belongs in Vayikra.  It’s really an amazing power we have to make a vow. Just by an act of speech, we can turn something in the world from permitted to forbidden.  It’s really a divine power, something we would normally say that only Hashem has the power to do. He made pork forbidden, He forbade Shaatnez and the mixture of meat and milk.  

What does this have to do with inheriting the land?  Well, it becomes clear once we understand the status of the other side of the Jordan.  The ambiguity is created because the children of Gad and Reuven need special permission to live there, indicating that it is definitely outside the land of Israel.  But permission is granted, which makes it seem like inside. Moshe is buried there, which means it is outside. But the conquering of it is the first thing listed in the conquest of the land of Israel in the 12th chapter of the book of Yehoshua.  There are cities of refuge there, which indicates that it is somehow inside, but they don’t take effect quite yet.  

The status of the land in Ever HaYarden teaches us that once the land of Israel is conquered and inherited, then (and only then) does the circuitry which extends the holiness of the land across the Jordan go online.  Now, as the Jews stand there, the land on the other side is not yet activated as an extension of the land of Israel. First the land of Israel has to come online in all of its glory. Then things can be extended.  

This is the mechanism of vows as well, the ability to extend the restrictions beyond what the Torah requires. 
It all begins with the land of Israel, however.  Without it, nothing extends out in any direction.  This is what we are still missing as long as the land of Israel is not at its full power.  There are all kinds of extensions to be made. But they can’t be made without the land first.

Fri, August 14 2020 24 Av 5780