Torah Portion: Masa’ei (Stages) B’midbar (Numbers) 33:1-36:13
HafTorah: Jeremiah 2:4-28
In this Torah section that finishes the book of B’Midbar or Numbers it begins with a recount of the journeys of Israel from their exit from Egypt until their arrival to the border of their inheritance. It covers the setting up of the cities of refuge and the division of the land.
I want us to cover a few issues in these verses as well as look at the HafTorah in Jeremiah 2:4-28. Although we have spoken of the subject of journey’s before let me take a moment to refresh each of us. Here we see Moses setting out the journeys of Israel as they went out of Egypt. Really the first journey was the only one that went out of Egypt so why does Moses say it this way? Each of us has come out of Egypt but it takes awhile to get Egypt out of us. It also takes a life time for us to reach the spiritual maturity that G-d desires of us. Paul alludes to this in the New Testament in Acts 20:23-24. Our lives are a series of journeys, each has a purpose – to mature us, to bring us closer to our inheritance. I expect each of us are in or will be in such a journey. They are for our good and not our harm. I encourage you. G-d loves you and by allowing challenges into our lives He desires for us to grow in Him.
Next I want us to take a minute and talk about the cities of refuge. These were cities that G-d instructed Israel to set up so that a person who caused the death of another person could run to and be protected from the avenger of blood. They could find protection only if the death was accidental. If the death was intentional the person was turned over to the avenger of blood. If innocent of intentional death the person was given refuge until the death of the High Priest. At which time the person was given freedom. What does this have to do with anything? I will share a reason from the Talmud. What is important is not the story but the point. According to the Talmud, if the High Priest had been diligent in praying for Israel such acts would not have happened. So he bears some responsibility for the deaths and as such only his death atones for them. I am not saying I believe this to be true but there is a message for us.
The point, which can be tied to our journeys, is we cannot be indifferent. What is expected of us in the area of mercy and kindness. There are three levels of interaction between us and the people we come in contact with. We can help them, harm them or do nothing either good or bad. The first two I think we understand easy enough. But what does faith say about the third? In D’Varim or Numbers 22:3 we read at the end of the verse, “you cannot hide yourselves.” In Hebrew it is stronger, “You cannot disappear.” What can we get from this? We do not have the option of doing nothing. Our journeys are filled with opportunities to help someone. Maybe it is actively doing something, maybe it is praying for them. The point is we do not take the stance of doing nothing. By our actions we are known, not so much by our words. This purpose of being truly kind is a life long task. It is who we are, by such we can teach everyone around us.
Lastly I want us to look at the HafTorah in Jeremiah. This is the second of the readings leading up to Tisha b’Av and the time of the destruction of both temples. It begins on August 4th. In these verses we read the words of the prophet as he exhorts Israel to return to G-d. They had gone after foreign gods and gods of stone and wood. Prophets were not fortune tellers or sooth sayers, for such were banned by Torah. Rather prophets warned of a future that would be if the people did not change. He warns but does not predict. Prophets were the first who saw time as a great drama between G-d and man. Time was more than just cyclical (day following night) or linear (cause and affect). Each of those has their place but the prophet saw G-d in time. Our lives are not prewritten. We have a choice. They saw a distinct connection between faith in G-d and morality. Without G-d idolatry flourishes. When that happens it corrupts and hate and immorality blossoms. People are suppressed and abused. The strong win and the weak lose. Coming out on top is the driving purpose. Such was the Israel that Jeremiah spoke to. (Jeremiah 5:7-8)
For the prophet and hopefully for us, might does not make right. Rather the righteousness of G-d and His people were the issue. Prophets had little to say about politics, Samuel being the only exception. Isaiah and Jeremiah both stressed that what matters in the moral and spiritual strength of a nation (Jeremiah 2:27-28) Prophets were messengers of hope more than doom. (Jeremiah 31:34-36) Even though tragedy may strike G-d is still there, still loves and wants us back. The prophet never lost faith in G-d nor should we. Even though today may be dark the sunrise will come if we are faithful. Only then can we become more than ourselves. We are the children of G-d and He loves us all the time even in the dark days.