Commentary on Parashat Masei, Numbers 33:1 - 36:13
The sons of Reuben and Gad have promised Moses that they will help the other tribes settle the Promised Land before settling across the River Jordan.
Moses records the journeys of the sons of Israel from when they were led out of Egypt by Moses and Aaron, from the first month of the fifteenth day, on the morning after the Pesach offering when the sons of Israel went out before the eyes of all the Egyptians. For God had struck them down with the death of the first-born, with judgment upon their gods. God talks to Moses. “Tell the people that when you cross into the land of Canaan, you shall drive out all people who live there and destroy all their symbols, idols and places of worship. I have given this land to you. If you do not drive out the people who live there then those left behind will become like a thorn in your side. They will oppress you as enemies in the land in which you dwell and, it will come to pass that what I had intended to do to them, I will do to you.”
God has Moses tell the Children of Israel about the borders of Canaan and the land each tribe shall receive. Each tribe will give a portion of their possessions, land and animals to the Levites who take care of the Tent of Appointed Meeting with God. God said, “Moses, tell the people that in the promised land of Canaan, you shall make safe cities. These cities of refuge shall be a safe place for people who murder until that person has been judged innocent or guilty. There shall be 6 safe cities, 3 on this side of the Jordan and 3 in Canaan.”
Moses tells the people about God’s specific laws about murder. “If one murders out of hatred, the murdered shall be put to death. This murderer may only be punished by death if at least two witnesses can verify the murderer. . No-one may be killed on the words of only a single witness. If a murderer is to die then do so. Never accept a bribe to keep the murderer alive. If a death occurs without hatred or desire to hurt, then the killer will be taken to a safe city. If the killer leaves the safe city then that killer can be killed. This is the law of justice for all time in your land. God says to not turn the Promised Land into a place of sins and lies and injustice. Keep the promised land pure for God is watching the Children of Israel.”
After the giving of these laws on murder, the land inheritances of Zelophehad’s daughters are clarified. Since God told Moses that if there are no male inheritors, land inheritance shall pass to the daughters. The tribal members were concerned about the transference of land when the daughters get married. Moses answered, “These daughters must marry someone in the family of their father’s tribe so that no inheritance shall pass from one tribe to another.”
These are some of the laws that the Lord commanded the Israelites, through Moses, on the steps of Moab, at the Jordan near Jericho.
Parshat Masei Discussion Questions:
1) What is difference between “thou shall not murder” and “thou shall not kill”?
2) Why is it important to always have two witnesses before judging someone innocent or guilty of a sin?
3) Do you believe that people who murder out of hatred should be put to death? Why or why not?
Reprinted with permission from Jewish Family & Life!
Pronounced: PAY-sakh, also PEH-sakh. Origin: Hebrew, the holiday of Passover.