Matos-Mas’ei – The Final Word

Although Sefer Devarim is the final “book” of the Torah, in a sense, Sefer Bamidbar is. That is because, while Devarim includes many new laws and accounts, it also repeats some, and is thus characterized by Chazal as “Mishneh Torah” – the “repetition” or “second” Torah.

Which gives Matos and Mas’ei, Bamidbar’s final parshios, the status, on some level, of the “end” of what began in Beraishis.

The thought is intriguing, since those parshios reflect elements we find at the Torah’s start. The first sin in history (after Adam and Chava brought sin into the realm of possibility) was murder – that of Hevel – and Kayin’s subsequent peripatetic life. And at the end of Sefer Bamidbar, we have the law of orei miklat, the cities to which an accidental murderer (which, in a way, Kayin was, as he had never before witnessed death) flees. And the detailed masa’os, wandering-stops of the Jews in the desert, are reminiscent of Kayin’s na vanad, “wandering to and fro.”

Also prominent at the end of Sefer Bamidbar is the subject of speech: Like vows and the tenai – “condition” – made with Bnai Gad and Bnei Reuvain (with its halachic ramifications for verbal agreements). Even Bil’am’s death by sword reflects the idea of the power of speech (see Rashi Bamidbar 31:8).

Speech is what, in parshas Beraishis, is identified as the essential human attribute: the Targum of nefesh chayah, “a living soul,” famously is ruach memalela, “a speaking soul.”

And, thus, it is the defining power of the nation Hashem chose to be an example to mankind. Forces of evil come with swords, guns and bombs. We come with tefillah and talmud Torah.

A particularly worthy thought during this period of the Jewish year, when we focus on the destruction of the Batei Mikdash and hope for the speedy arrival of the third and final one.

© 2023 Rabbi Avi Shafran

My most recent Ami Magazine column, “Anything but Anti-Orthodox,” can be read here.

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