Mattot: A Summary of the Parsha

Moses describes the laws of oaths; the Israelites battle the Midianites; the tribes of Reuben and Gad request to dwell outside of the Land of Israel.

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The following article is reprinted with permission from Jewish Family & Life!

Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the sons of Israel, saying, "This is the word that God has commanded. If a man makes a vow to God or swears an oath, he must not permit his word to remain unfulfilled. He shall do whatever has come forth from his mouth.

"The same goes for a woman, unless her father (in her youth) or her husband obstructs her vows. In that case, God will forgive her because of these obstructions. Every vow and every binding oath of self-denial, her husband can let it stand or her husband can annul it. As for a widowed or divorced woman, anything that she has vowed shall stand for her." These are the laws that God commanded Moses between a man and his wife, and between a father and his daughter in her youth in her father's house.

God then said to Moses, "Accomplish the vengeance against the Midianites in order to raise the sons of Israel from their influences of idol worship and immorality. Afterward you shall die before your peoples."

Moses did as God commanded and mounted a war campaign against Midian and slew all the males and kings and also Balaam, son of Beor. The sons of Israel took captive the women of Midian and their children, all their livestock and flocks and all their possessions. They brought all these prisoners and possessions to Moses and Eleazar the priest in front of the community of Israel.

Moses was angry with the officers of the army who had returned from the war, saying "So you allowed all the females to live? Lo! These are exactly the ones who, on Balaam's advice, were to cause the sons of Israel to act faithlessly against God in the matter of Baal Peor so that the plague broke out within the community of God.

"And now kill every male among the children and every female who has known a man for sexual intercourse. You shall camp outside the camp for seven days, and everyone who has slain a person or touched a slain person must be cleared of sin. All the utensils and garments must also be cleared of sin."

Then God said to Moses, "Take up the sum of the booty seized and divide it among the warriors and among the entire community. And you shall levy a tribute for God from the warriors and also give Eleazar the priest an uplifted donation." These tributes are listed specifically, and include animals, virgin females and gold.

Now, the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad had great wealth in herds of cattle. They saw the land of Yaazer and the land of Gilead and saw it was well-suited for herds. They asked Moses and Eleazar the priest if they could remain there to tend their herds rather than crossing over to the land God had given them.

Moses responded, "Shall your brothers go to war and you sit here? And why do you restrain the hearts of the sons of Israel from crossing over into the land that God has given them? That is how your fathers acted when I sent them to scout the land. All the scouts lied about the land except for Caleb and Joshua who followed God. Remember how the anger of God was stirred and God made the scouts wander in the wilderness for forty years until that generation had come to an end.

"And now you have risen in the place of your fathers, you brood of sinful men, to add to the wrath of God that was kindled against Israel. If you will hold back from following God, he will make them remain in the wilderness even longer and you will have prepared ruin for this whole people."

And the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad came up to him and said, "We want to build sheepfolds for our cattle and cities for our children. Our children can remain in the fortified cities while we bring the sons of Israel to their place. We will stay until each of them have taken their inheritance in the promised land while we take our inheritance on this side of land."

Moses responded, "If you will drive out the enemies before God and help conquer the land, then you will be freed from your obligation by God and by Israel. Then you may return to this land and it shall become your property before God. But if you do not do this, then you have sinned against God and your sin shall be found out."

Thus it was done that the children and wives and herds of the sons of Gad and the sons of Reuben remained in the cities of Gilead while the men went and conquered enemies as promised.

Questions For Discussion

1) With regard to the vows a man or woman makes before God, why are the terms different for a man than for a woman? Are they still different? Why or why not?

2) Why does God suggest that a woman must abide by her father or husband? Is that still true today? Why or why not?

3) Just a few portions ago, Balaam was the protector of the Israelites and remained loyal to God even when Balak wanted him to forsake God and curse the Israelites. Why, then, was Balaam, son of Beor, killed along with all the Midianites?

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Nancy Reuben Greenfield

Nancy Reuben Greenfield has written three adaptations of the Torah, including an
interactive family version at www.TiptoeThroughTheTorah.com, and an engaging
Jewish immigrant novel, The Golden Medina, available on itunes and Amazon.