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Mattot (Tribes) and Masa’ei (Stages) B’midbar (Numbers) 30:2-36:13

Mattot (Tribes) and Masa’ei (Stages) B’midbar (Numbers) 30:2-36:13  Haftorah Readings: Jeremiah 1:1-2:28

Today I would like to cover two topics from our double Torah readings. Both of these topics have bearing on our life today as G-d’s people and the world in which we live. I would like to start with my question of the week. In Numbers 32:1-5 we read the account of the two tribes of Reuben and Gad who came to Moshe and told him they would rather stay on the east bank of the Jordan River rather than enter the Promised Land with the rest of Israel. Later, they were joined in their request by the half tribe of Menashe.

Let us take a moment and consider this request. The children of Israel had been on the way from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land, a land that had been promised to Avraham hundreds of years earlier. This land was G-d’s promise to the descendants of Avraham. They had been told it was a land flowing with milk and honey, a special place like no other on earth. Yet, when the people arrived at the doorstep of the Promise, these two and a half tribes decided, “No thank you. We are good here on the east bank of the Jordan.”

What could they have been thinking? I believe one word in Numbers 32:1-5 can give us a clue to the answer. In  verse 4 we read, “The land which the L-rd defeated before the congregation of Israel is a land for livestock and your servants have livestock.” In this verse the word translated from Hebrew to English as livestock is miknay. They used this same word twice in this verse. Interestingly, Moshe never used this word in his answer to them.

Now the meaning of the word miknay comes from the Hebrew root of Kanah, which means to buy or purchase. As it is spelled here in verse 4 it takes the meaning of riches, wealth or possessions. So the actual motivation of these tribes was to accumulate more wealth.

Remember, at this time of history wealth was mainly measured in the amount of cattle, sheep, etc. that a person owned. Gold and silver were more difficult to carry around. It could also be stolen easily, while livestock produced wealth much more easily. Livestock would give birth and multiply. You could sell their wool, eat or sell their meat.

This was their real motivation for not wanting to follow the other tribes into the Land of Promise. They saw an economic advantage to staying where they were. The promise of G-d faded into the background. They were lured by the lush pasture land on the east side of the river. They took their eyes off the promise of G-d.

Remember, the land they had chosen was formerly Moabite land (Numbers 21:26). As such, it was unclean, forbidden for the people of Israel. As we look ahead in the coming years, these two and a half tribes were the first to be taken captive by the Assyrians.

What does this say to each of us today, in the world in which we live? When we read Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:13 we read the words of Yeshua, “No man can serve two masters, for either he will love the one and hate the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” These tribes loved their possessions and instead of crossing the Jordan, they settled outside of the Land of Promise. They sacrificed the much greater good of settling in the land under G-d’s blessing for the immediate gain of possessions/profit. In making this choice they separated themselves from the community of Israel.

This brings to mind the story in Mark 10:17-22, of the rich young ruler who came to Yeshua and asked how he could inherit eternal life. Yeshua told him, “One thing you lack, Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; and come take up the cross, and follow me.  The last verse says the rich young ruler went away sorrowful because he had great possessions. This young man’s problem was not new or unique. Our Torah reading is a great example of the same issue. When we look around us today we see this problem continues both in the world at large and even among G-d’s people.

This Torah portion and the accompanying Messianic verses should be a warning to us all about our priorities in life. Our G-d is a jealous G-d and He requires our all. His desire is for us to follow His plan for our life. Don’t stop on the other side of the river. Don’t trade a fleeting temptation for the everlasting glory of being in the Father’s presence.

Finally, we come to my last point. In the portion Masa’ei we read of all the places Israel stopped on their way from Egypt to the Land. In fact, there are 42 places. It would have been much easier to have written, “We left Egypt and 40 years later we entered the Promised Land. So why go over each place and what happened there?

I believe the Torah is giving us a great example here to apply to our life. Our lives are a learning process in which the stumbles and successes along the way make us who we are. It is important to not lose sight of the process G-d has brought us through. Where we have been and where we are at present gives us a picture of our journey not just our destination. We are not to stand still but to constantly follow the Father’s path for us. Life is growth. It should be a continuing process of spiritual growth. I encourage you to take some time this week to think back over your life, at the stops along your way and remember how G-d worked in your life in the good and also the difficult moments. Take the time to thank Him for His ever abiding love for you.   May we all have arrived at G-d’s goal for us when our journey ends. Bless each of you today.

And as we say at the end of each book of Torah:  Hazak, Hazak, v’nit’chazek! Be Strong, be strong, and let us be strengthened!