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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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, and an engaging
Jewish immigrant novel, The Golden Medina, available on itunes and Amazon.