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Shabbat Parashat Matot Masei| 5770

Parashat Hashavuah: The End of the Journey

Harav Shaul Yisraeli, from Siach Shaul, p. 463

This week we finish reading the fourth of the books of the Torah. It encapsulates the story of 42 encampments during a 40-year journey. If we look at tendencies that play out during this time, we could say that Bnei Yisrael did a lot of complaining and bickering. However, if we take a closer look, we should realize that they underwent a difficult, long-lasting schooling experience.

Moshe himself said: “You shall remember all of the path that Hashem had you take during forty years in the desert in order to afflict you, to test you” (Devarim 8:2). This was not a normal national existence. They did not occupy an inhabited land; they did not have normal houses or normal bread to eat. Everything was unnatural: bread from the sky, water that arrived miraculously. The travels were totally unpredictable, sometimes after a day, a month, … (Bamidbar 9:22). It is not such a surprise that the people were short-breathed at times. It is not easy to always live in uncertainty and undergoing tests. Let us take a look at some of the test results.

The Torah does not concentrate on the praise due to the nation, but highlights that which was wrong and needed repair. However, we can see some of the good things in the nation specifically from the appraisal of one who was not so enthusiastic about seeing their goodness, Bilam. He was particularly impressed with Bnei Yisrael’s living quarters, among other things. Apparently they had slowly started fitting the mold for which they were destined, as the Nation of Hashem.

By the end of Sefer Bamidbar, there was a changing of the guard. The final census did not contain members of the generation that Moshe and Aharon originally counted (Bamidbar 26:64). The new generation was one that was poised to conquer the Land. They conquered nations on the east bank of the Jordan and were encamped just to the east of the Jordan, near Yericho. Perhaps the most daunting challenge was that their great leader, Moshe, was preparing to pass on from leadership and from life. He had to instruct them about the boundaries of the Land and the methods of dividing it. He had to warn them how to interact with the inhabitants of the Land of C’na’an, and to set up even cities of refuge for unintentional murderers.

The parasha ends in a manner that expresses the essence of the nation and the Land they were to inherit.  “Do not defile the Land that you are living in, in which I dwell, for I am Hashem Who dwells in the midst of Bnei Yisrael” (Bamidbar 35:34). Chazal (Sifrei, Bamidbar 1) derive from here that even when the nation is impure, still the Divine Presence is among them. This the nature of the Land and the nation, whose sanctity does not cease even in a state of defilement. Indeed it was worthwhile to undergo 40 years of trials and tribulations in order to hear such a Divine assurance. Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazeik. May we be repeatedly strengthened.


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R' Meir ben
Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld

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