Torah Portion Mattot (Tribes) Masa’ei (Stages) (B’Midbar) Numbers30:2-36:13
Haftorah Reading: Jeremiah 1:1-2:28
This week we finish the book of B’Midbar or Numbers. In these two Torah portions we cover a number of topics. These are topics that speak to us in our life and world today. One of the dominant themes is the subject of words. When we began our journey through the Torah the words spoken by G-d brought the world into being. Through all the books so far we have seen the power of words both for good and for evil. We see this same theme in the Messianic Scriptures in Matthew 5:37 where it says, “But let your yes be yes and your no no. For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.”
I want us to take a few minutes to see what the scriptures have to say to us about this subject. In our portion we read in Numbers 30:2 where the subject of vows and oaths comes up. In this scripture and following we read of the power of words and our responsibility to guard our speech. The connection between people is through words. We use words to communicate our feelings, our emotions, our love and our hate.
The scripture takes a very serious view on words. Words that we utter such as, “I never will…” or “I will always…” are not seen as idle words but as words that bind us. In our world, especially today, words are used very carelessly. Words are used with little thought as to their actual power.
Today I want us to look at words spoken as a vow or an oath. When we make a vow what does G-d expect to happen. Back to Numbers 30:2 we read where we are bound by those words, emphasizing the seriousness of what comes out of our mouths.
As we read further, we read that the vow of a wife or daughter can only be canceled by the husband or father. The husband or father can cancel the vow but he is held to a time limit. He must cancel it on the day he hears it. If he says nothing what happens? The vow stands and must be carried out.
I want us to think here about the option of keeping quiet. I think this silence speaks to us. When we hear evil or hateful speech do we have any responsibility to speak up? It may not be a vow we hear but that does not rule out our responsibility. We all have heard the saying, “the only way evil can triumph is for good people to say nothing.” In our life we all have a responsibility to speak out when we see hatred being spread or when we see sin being portrayed as right or when we see people mistreated just because of who they are. If we do not, our silence is the same as our approval of what is happening. Here and all through scripture words were used and either brought life or death. Let us guard our mouth against hateful mean speech.
In our second Torah portion this week we read the words of G-d calling the people to review or remember their journeys from Egypt to the doorstep of the Promised Land. I think G-d was reminding the people and us that life is a journey and in that journey there are stops along the way where we pause for a bit. We all have this tension in our lives between the journey and the stopping places. I believe the challenge for us all is to keep pressing on until G-d says we have reached our goal. In these stops we rest and reflect. We take the time to think on those things that we have learned, those things that can prepare us for the next step, the next leg of our journey. The words of one of Robert Frost’s poems, “Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening,” are a good example of our life as believers and can also help us grasp what the Father is saying in going over this list of stops with the people.
“The woods are lovely and deep.
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
Here the poet stopped to enjoy the beauty of the setting, the dark woods and falling snow, but knew he must go on for there was more to his journey. We must always be aware of where we are and what G-d has for us around the next bend in the road. Shaul in Acts 20:23-24, speaks of the need to push on. May we never miss the opportunity to draw close to the Father and learn from Him in these stopping points in our lives.
Lastly I want us to look at the verses concerning the request of the tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh recounted in Numbers 32:5 and following. These tribes went to Moshe and asked to receive their inheritance on the eastern side of the Jordan rather than crossing over with the other tribes. Can you feel the amazement in Moshe’s response? “Seriously! You want to repeat the discouragement of the evil report of the spies and discourage the people?” The tribes gave their reasons for wanting to stay there, basically economic reasons but in the end they agreed to go over and fight at the forefront of the tribes until all are settled in their inheritance.
I think through this section we should be able to see the importance of unity and apply it to our own lives as G-d’s people. The believing world is fragmented today and in fact has been this way for a long time. We quibble over doctrine that may rest on the interpretation of a single verse. I believe we have the responsibility to one another to cross over the Jordan together.