Mattot-Massai

  1. Kedusha is timelessness. There is no risk in Kedusha just the maximization of a soul (even through an animal’s sacrifice) in their connection to the timeless. An oath is a commitment. It is a human shadow of G-dly timelessness. This is why the word Chal (same as Chilul Hashem) is used. We can desecrate our own word. Interestingly, while this comes with risks, it also has rewards – after all, we have created something we can desecrate. In a more modern context, Kol Nidrai actually undermines our potential for creating bubbles of humanist holiness.
  2. Why do we count the booty? It serves as a reinforcement of the power of a holy Jewish nation. 32,000 girls in the age of virginity suggests something like 60,000+ men of fighting age. The Jews attacked them with 12,000 men and lost not one. And this wasn’t a weak nation, but a wealthy and powerful one. With this power, the Jews are invincible. It serves as a lesson for us and a warning to our enemies. But, sadly, we have never again acquired that military power.
  3. Moshe doesn’t consult with Hashem when asked about settling outside the land. First, he assumes the tribes are unlearning the lessons of the spies. He is fighting the last battle. But he doesn’t ask Hashem because after passing the baton to Yohoshua the relationship has become more fixed. But the flaw in the request of the tribes is not their fear of fighting – it is in their belief that they won’t enjoy a full bounty in the land. This reflects another lack of faith that Moshe doesn’t criticize.
  4. The tribes promise to fight. Of course, they don’t live up to this obligation. Their oath isn’t kept. They’ve created a bubble of spiritual value – and they allow it to pop. The tribes actually desecrate themselves. In this way, they’ve stepped down twice: once from the physical and spiritual value of Hashem’s promise and once from the physical and spiritual value of their own promise.
  5. We see Hashem stating that these tribes have received their inheritance. Is this approval? I would say no. It is rather a sad sign of lost potential. The other tribes can become greater – they still have untold potential. But these tribes have already inherited what they will. It is tragic.
  6. There are three basic types of land in Israel. The farming land, the cities and the levite combo-deals. The farming land is how most people actualize their physical creativity – but it is stable year to year. It is Hashem’s land. The cities can change drastically generation to generation. Land can be bought and sold in them because there is no timeless permanence in the cities. They are fundamentally human. The third area, the Levite cities belong to G-d. Their buildings are not fundamentally human, but divine. And they are paired with land that is also fundamentally divine. The land forms a barrier. It is open space that is free of human melacha and human building.
  7. Why does a manslaughterer get to leave with the death of the Kohen? A murderer has destroyed their own soul. But an accidental killer has limited another’s potential. The damage they suffer is often caused by their own regret and the hatred of others – it is not divine in origin. It is a shadow of murder just as the oath is a shadow of Hashem’s holiness. It is not truly timeless. Instead, with the passing of a generation of human holiness – the Kohen Gadol – this loss also expires. It is literally “a law for your generations” but not beyond them.

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