17 Jul Rabbi Hillel Skolnik’s Torah Spark for Matot-Mas’ei 5775
This Shabbat we read the double portion of Matot-Mas’ei which together comprises the longest combined Torah reading over the course of the Jewish calendar year. These two parshiyot, which bring to a close the book of B’midbar, the book of Numbers, take the Israelite people to the very edge of the Promised Land. When the book comes to a close, the Israelites are camped on the Eastern side of the Jordan River, finished with their forty years in the desert and ready to enter into the promised land. It sets the stage for the book of D’varim, the book of Deuteronomy, which is overwhelmingly Moshe’s final speech and blessing to the Israelite people right before they cross the Jordan River.
What makes Matot-Masei so long is the extensive and exhaustive list of places in which the Israelites camped over the course of their forty years in the wilderness. And while the verses are short in length, they are quite numerous as over the course of their time the Israelites camped in a great number of places. But we must ask ourselves, why is this list included in the Torah, especially when you consider that the overwhelming majority of the journey took place in very recent chapters of B’midbar? It almost seems as if the Torah is reminding of a something that we now instinctively know as Jewish people, but perhaps didn’t know thousands of years ago, and that is how critical our history and story is to our future. The Israelites who made it to the banks of the Jordan River were not the same Israelites who left Egypt just as we, the Jewish community of the 21st century, are not the same Jews as faced events of the not so distant past. But whether we were there or not, whether the Israelites about to listen to Moshe speak were there or not, it is their story just as it is ours. We read it and do so carefully so that we may know exactly where we have been as a people which will guide us to where we will go. Without that history, we’d all be lost, but with it be can all be together.
Rabbi Hillel Skolnik