Monthly Archives: August 2016

Parshat Ekeb

This week is the 2nd of the 7 Haftarot of consolation which will eventually lead us to Rosh Hashana. A reminder that Rambam Sephardi will begin reciting morning selihot from 2nd day Elul on Monday 5 September 2016.

Parshat Ekeb is the 3rd in the Book of Deuteronomy spanning chapters 7-11. It contains the mitzvah of Birkat HaMazon, the 2nd paragraph of Shema Yisrael and an answer to the existential question – what is the purpose of life.

Moshe continued to prepare Bnei Yisrael for the task of inheriting the Land of Canaan; reminding them of the journey of the past 40 years and whetting their appetite for its conclusion.

The opening section promises great blessings to those who follow the commandments. Their assets will increase and ­­­their land will become a great place to settle and live.

Comment: Parshat Ekeb challenges us to consider a wider role for the Jewish people among the nations of the world. The word Ekeb translats to mean ‘because.’ Interestingly the same usage is found in one other place in the Torah – when the Almighty promises Abraham at the time of the Akeidah that his descendants will be blessed to become a great multitude and will inherit the Land of Canaan.

In a similar parallel, the Prophet Micah – years after Moshe’s speech, proposes the same existential question ‘what does G-d ask of you?’ Except that Micah’s reply differs from Moshe’s demand in Parshat Ekeb. Moshe asked ‘now Israel, what does G-d require of you but to fear the Almighty, to walk in His ways, to love Him and to serve the Lord with all your heart and soul.’ (Deuteronomy 10:12).

Micah 6:8, on the other hand, stated ‘son of man, what does the Almighty seek from you except to be just, kind and walk humbly with your G-d.’ While the original question implies a national obligation for Bnei Yisrael to develop a relationship with G-d, the latter defines the duty of all humanity towards each other.

Add to this the verses warning against affluence and complacency (Deuteronomy 8:17), ‘beware not to grow arrogant towards the Almighty, claiming my power and the strength of my hand wrought this success’ and we find a strong message for our generation.

Moshe warned Bnei Yisrael not to become arrogant and conceited, thinking their success was due solely to their own initiative. But rather they needed to understand it was G-d who gave them the basic strength, sensibility and directed purpose to achieve their aims.

By thinking we’ve created our own success (Kohi VeOtsem Yadi), we denigrate and appear ungrateful to the Almighty. Beyond this, it strips us of the compassion we might otherwise feel for others less well off.

As we’ve seen recently, ignoring the needs of the disenfranchised risks not only us losing a sense of our shared humanity, but almost certainly leads to the kind of resentment and anger we see around us today in the US, the UK and other developed countries.

Going back to the time of Abraham, our mission was to bring an awareness of the Living G-d to those around us and to use our G-d-given strength to inspire all people to build a world of Justice & Kindness.

Thoughts on the Week 25 August 2016


This brief comment is in memory of my late mother (Brainah Leah bat Moshe Aharon) and for all those who read Tehillim for the sake of others.

Chapter 5:

The 5th Chapter of Psalms is attributed to King David’s authorship. It is a reflection on how the righteous pray to be free not only from suffering but to serve God without distraction.

It is part of our early-morning prayers (the 2nd verse of Mah Tobu), because morning was important in the religions of the ancient Near East. David’s call demonstrates this prayer is to a listening God.

וַאֲנִי–בְּרֹב חַסְדְּךָ, אָבוֹא בֵיתֶךָ; אֶשְׁתַּחֲוֶה אֶל-הֵיכַל-קָדְשְׁךָ, בְּיִרְאָתֶךָ.

But for me, in the abundance of Your lovingkindness will I come to Your house; I’ll bow down toward Your holy temple in awe of You. (Psalm 5:8)

There is a dynamic tension in the way Chapter 5 describes the wicked villain whose throat is an open sepulcher and the righteous who, by their love of God, may enter the Temple. The chapter ends in thanksgiving for all those who trust in the Almighty, and who in return receive G-d’s protection.

כִּי-אַתָּה, תְּבָרֵךְ צַדִּיק: יְהוָה–כַּצִּנָּה, רָצוֹן תַּעְטְרֶנּוּ.

For You bless the righteous; O LORD, You encompass them, as a shield, with Your favour. (Psalm 5:13)


Further to last week’s synopsis of the book Scarcity; the New Science of Having Less and How it Defines Our Lives, authors Sendhil Mullainathan & Eldar Shafir explain a process they refer to as ‘tunnelling’. Whether speaking of how we use time or money, a human tendency when under pressure to meet deadlines, is to focus on the task at hand at the exclusion of all else.

Their example is that on a not-so-busy day we might spend more time replying to e-mails, lingering a bit longer at lunch with colleagues, allowing ourselves in effect to get distracted. But, when a project deadline looms, those luxuries are considered extraneous, falling outside the tunnel of our vision 

They also describe another phenomenon referred to as ‘juggling’. Those of us who have multiple deadlines will recognise that we’re constantly swapping in and out of different projects as time demands. But keeping all of these projects on track is akin to having a number of balls in the air. Some of us tend to focus mostly on the ball that’s closest to falling to the ground until we’ve got it on its way upward again. But before we can recover, another ball demands our attention.

Both of these behaviours leads to a kind of ‘scarcity trap’, where it’s near impossible to break out of the inefficiency cycle. According to the authors, this accounts for why otherwise rational people might get themselves into spiralling debt or be overwhelmed with time commitments they can’t keep. Such people are always trying to catch-up.  

It’s also a reason why people concentrate on that which is important and urgent, at the expense of other issues that are equally important but not as urgent. Someone so busy trying to submit a work report on time may inadvertently miss going for their annual doctor’s check-up.

Even though we may think otherwise, living under such pressure makes us less efficient in the long-run. Taking a few moments out of our day for prayer, especially in the early morning, allows for the possibility to recalibrate our perspective and keep better control over our time, money and lives. King David in Psalm 5 has suggested a way for the righteous to serve the Almighty more effectively. It’s a lesson we can all stand to absorb.

Parshat VaEthanan-Nahamu

Parshat VaEthanan is the 2nd in the Book of Deuteronomy continuing Moshe’s admonishment of Bnei Yisrael during the last days of his life. It begins with Moshe explaining how he pleaded with the Almighty for permission to enter the land of Canaan but was rebuffed. It contains the Decalogue, the 1st paragraph of Shema Yisrael and part of the Pesah Hagadah.

‘Almighty G-d, You’ve begun to show me the mighty works of Your hands, please let me cross over and see the good land on the other side of the Jordan.’ And G-d replied, ‘Enough, don’t speak of it any longer.’

‘Behold, listen to the statutes and laws which I teach you in order that you live and merit inheriting the land. Neither add nor detract from them. Remember what your eyes witnessed against those who worshipped the idolatry of Ba’al Pe’or.’

Moshe reminded Bnei Yisrael that these laws will make them distinct among the peoples in Canaan who will be in awe of them. ‘For to what great nation has G-d come so close? And, to which nation has G-d given these commandments. Be steadfast not to forget what you saw with your eyes and experienced in your hearts; make it known to your children and grandchildren.’

He then reminded them of Horeb (Sinai) where they received the 10 Commandments from the Almighty. How they saw no physical image of G-d, nor should they in future designate any natural body – such as the sun or the moon – into a deity for worship.

‘Only you has G-d taken from the iron furnace of Egypt to be a people of inheritance. But G-d was angry with me for your sake and I was prevented from going with you … beware, not to forget the covenant G-d made with you.’

Moshe described the relationship of causality the people would have. ‘When successive generations are born and turn to idolatry angering G-d, I call Heaven & Earth as witnesses, you’ll be destroyed and chased out of the land.’

‘You’ll be scattered among the nations and will remain few in number. And when you again seek G-d with all your heart and soul, you’ll be returned; for G-d is merciful, not forgetting the promises made to your ancestors. Ask those who know history, has G-d ever spoken from within fire to any people and they lived, or has any nation been redeemed from within another through miracles and wonders as you’ve been.’

‘For that reason be sure to observe these laws G-d has given you, so that it goes well for you and your children, and in order for you to prolong your days in the land.’

Then Moshe designated 3 cities on the Transjordan side for the accidental murderer. One was Betser in Reuben’s land, Ramot in the Gilad of Gad and Golan in the Bashan area of Menashe. The Torah then lists the place, time and circumstances when Bnei Yisrael was given this charge.

Chapter 5 retold the Sinatic experience where the people heard G-d’s words and Moshe stood as intermediary. [The 10 Commandments are listed.] Moshe described his role. ‘You said to me, Go close and listen, then tell us all that G-d tells you and we will hear and do.’

‘Then G-d said ‘return to your tents’ asking me to stay to hear all the commandments, statutes and ordinances that you should do in the land of your inheritance. Observe what G-d has commanded you, neither veer left nor right; so that you may live and it will be good for you, and you’ll enjoy long years in the land.

In Chapter 6 Moshe elaborated on the intent of all the commands; to engender within Bnei Yisrael an immense love and fear of G-d. [Here the 1st paragraph of Shema Yisrael occurs.]

Moshe warned Bnei Yisrael to avoid other scenarios which could lead to their expulsion; suggesting what might happen when Bnei Yisrael captured towns and houses full of the spoils of its inhabitants. ‘Beware lest you forget G-d who took you out of Egypt … refrain from following the ways of the idolatry of the local inhabitants.’

VaEthanan concludes with words also appearing in the Pesah Hagadah. ‘And should future generations ask, what are these testimonies, laws and ordinances which G-d has given you … Tell them our ancestors were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and G-d took us out to bring us to this land … And it shall be righteousness for us when we observe these mitsvot.’

The parasha ends with a stark demand to break the altars of the local inhabitants and destroy their deities; warning against assimilation and inter-marriage. ‘Don’t marry them; neither give your daughters to their sons nor take their daughters for your sons, for they will lead you astray.’

‘For you are a holy nation, G-d has chosen you as a treasure from among the nations. Not because you were abundant in number, for you are the fewest. But because of G-d’s love for you and promise to your ancestors … For G-d is trustworthy in fulfilling covenants and mercy … unto a thousand generations.’

Comment: Parshat VaEthanan – is essentially about creating a loving relationship with the Almighty. Moshe has crafted together a series of vignettes to draw out the positives and the negatives. He contrasts a sense of pride within Bnei Yisrael – evident in their national mission and destiny with potential betrayal through idolatry.

VaEthanan is about the opportunity for our relationship with the Almighty, Creator of the Universe. But profoundly, and uniquely to monotheism, such a relationship can occur not only nationally but on a one-to-one basis.

For anyone blessed with teenagers, you’ll recognise in Moshe’s warnings a familiar scene. Raising one who inhabits ‘a house they didn’t build and enjoying the fruits of a vineyard they hadn’t planted … growing contemptuous and ungrateful’. This is a difficult immature stage that requires much patience, understanding and empathy, and one where love is more out of self-interest than sincerity.

A pre-requisite to mature love is to appreciate the other for whom they are – their struggles and successes, their weaknesses and strengths, their goodness, hopes and aspirations – not just for what they do that satisfies me.  Perhaps it’s reading too much into Moshe’s intentions, but reflecting in hindsight his role as shepherd and leader of Am Yisrael, could his message also be that it’s time for Bnei Yisrael to take responsibility for themselves, since he won’t be with them much longer?

For a more complex understanding of the subtlety in Moshe’s speech, click here.

Thoughts on the Week 18 August 2016


This brief comment is in memory of my late mother (Brainah Leah bat Moshe Aharon) and for all those who read Tehillim for the sake of others.

Chapter 4:

The 4th Chapter of Psalms is also attributed to King David’s authorship. It focuses on sinfulness and repentance, and the solace gained from the latter. It appears to be a continuation of the theme from Psalm 3 – David’s lament about son Abshalom’s attempt to usurp the throne.

בְּקָרְאִי, עֲנֵנִי אֱלֹהֵי צִדְקִי–בַּצָּר, הִרְחַבְתָּ לִּי; חָנֵּנִי, וּשְׁמַע תְּפִלָּתִי.

Answer when I call, O God of my righteousness, You who set me free when I was in distress; be gracious to me, and hear my prayer. (Psalms 4:2)

The message in the psalm is that the victories of sinners are temporary and meaningless, and that only repentance can bring true happiness. It is a request to God for deliverance from past distress.

בְּשָׁלוֹם יַחְדָּו, אֶשְׁכְּבָה וְאִישָׁן: כִּי-אַתָּה ה לְבָדָד; לָבֶטַח, תּוֹשִׁיבֵנִי.

In peace will I both lay down and sleep; for You, LORD, make me dwell alone in safety. (Psalms 4:9)

Knowing King David was immensely grieved by Abshalom’s death, one might speculate that in this Psalm he had his son’s sinfulness and potential redemption in mind, as much as his own.


The book Scarcity; the New Science of Having Less and How It Defines our Lives, written in 2013 by two gifted academics Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir, discusses the contemporary problem of not having enough time to complete everything we’d like to. It deftly points out how the human mind calculates trade-offs and demonstrates the benefits and shortcomings of the hectic life we all sometimes find we’re living.

The authors’ early premise is that in the short term, putting ourselves under deadline pressure achieves heightened productivity one wouldn’t reach by the lack of a target or goal. But it also illustrates how by living from deadline to deadline, project to project, we lose the ability to see the wider picture and discern between the forest and the trees. Thus, while being highly productive, we may be doing things inconsistent with or even a betrayal to our true selves.

In a world where we mostly are subject to the demands of others, it’s important to measure and control the amount of time we allocate to that which is essential. Perhaps the commodity that is most finite for all of us is time. Once past, there is no reclaiming how it was used.

A lesson from Psalm 4 might be to everyday ask ourselves, have we spent our time well. To lay down and awake with a sense of peace, requires self-honesty and the willingness to ‘repent’ and change the ways we allocate our time. To make sure we’re applying the right measure to the Scarcity we’re faced with, taking 5 minutes at the end of our day to reflect and then adjust our direction seems like a small but immeasurably valuable task.

Parshat Debarim

Finally we are reunited after months of separation! This week both Israel and the Diaspora will read Devarim on the Shabbat before 9 Ab.

Parshat Debarim opens the Book of Deuteronomy, written mostly in the 1st person, it contains 3 major speeches by Moshe expounded in the last days of his life. Debarim occurs at the plains of Transjordan, an 11-day journey from Horeb, on the 1st day of the 12th month in the 40th year.

Moshe orated how ‘G-d spoke to you at Horeb to go forward through the Emorite land to inherit territory promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. You were so numerous I wasn’t able to look after the entire population; a judiciary and law enforcement were appointed to relieve my burden and I instructed them how to judge the people fairly.’

‘From there you journeyed to the Great Midbar until Kadesh Barnea, from whence we were to go up and inherit Canaan. But you implored me to send spies to report on the land, and I agreed, sending 12 tribal representatives. They travelled to the Valley of Eshkol, bringing back samples of its fruits. Then you rebelled against G-d, lamenting in your tents. And, though I told you not to be afraid, that G-d would carry you as a father carries a child, you wouldn’t believe.

Angered, G-d heard your self-pity and swore that none of that generation would enter the land, other than Kaleb. Even I was prevented from entering; Joshua would bring you in my stead. Told to turn away into the desert, you regretted your sin, insisting too late to go up into battle. And, though G-d forbade it, you rebelled again and were decimated by the Emorites returning to wail before the Almighty who heeded not your cries. We remained in Kadesh for a time, then turned to the Midbar and stayed near Mt Seir for many years.

Eventually, you journeyed through the borders of Seir but didn’t confront its inhabitants, for their land belonged to Esav. You could purchase food and water from them for silver; G-d blessed you these 40 years in the desert where you lacked nothing. And you passed through their land on the road from Eilat to Etsion Gaver.

We turned to cross through the land of Moab but were told by G-d not to disturb them either, for it wasn’t their land we would inherit – theirs was the inheritance of Lot.’ (Moshe added the history of conquest and settlement in those lands.) ‘Then we were ready to cross the Zared Valley. From Kadesh to Zared took 38 years until the previous generation naturally died off, some struck by the hand of G-d for other reasons.

And, when all of the previous generation were no longer, G-d told me to cross the border of Moab to the town of Ar but not to discomfit them for their land too was part of Lot’s inheritance.’ (Again Moshe added the history of conquest and settlement in those lands identifying tribes not previously mentioned in the Torah.) ‘Instead we were to cross the Arnon Valley and take land from King Sihon which G-d would place in our hands. From then on the Almighty would put the fear of you upon all nations under the Heavens.’

‘And I sent messengers to King Sihon to make peace, asking him to let us pass through his land, paying for our food & drink as was done with the inhabitants of Seir & Moab. But Sihon refused, massing his troops to war with you. G-d hardened his heart so you could conquer his land. You destroyed his cities and killed its inhabitants, leaving no remnant. Only the cattle and spoils did you keep – all of this given into your hands by G-d.’

‘Then we turned to the Bashan. King Og and his troops came out to war with you. And G-d told me not to be afraid, for Og too would be given into our hands. So it was, without any remnant, you captured 60 of his well-fortified cities.’ (Once again Moshe added a conquest and settlement history for those lands, tracing Og’s lineage back to the Refa’im giants, himself requiring an iron bed 9 amot long x 4 amot wide.) ‘Those lands on the Transjordan were given to the tribes of Reuben and Gad. The remainder of Gilead and Bashan was given to half the tribe of Menashe.

And I commanded you saying that G-d gave you this land on condition you go armed to help the tribes in their conquest of Canaan, while your wives, children and cattle could remain behind. To Joshua, I commanded saying you’ve seen what G-d has wrought upon these two kings, so will the Almighty do to all the kingdoms that lie ahead of you. Fear not, the Lord wars with you.’

Comment: Parshat Debarim – a remarkable Me’am Loez Midrash in Parshat Matot at the end of Bamidbar explained that the 42 journeys of Bnei Yisrael listed were as much relevant to their historical occurrence as to what we should expect of a future redemption. This week’s Parasha shows a continuing trend.

Moshe, standing before the leadership and people, needed to address their fears and to inspire their confidence for success in the upcoming battle to conquer Cana’an. The Book of Debarim is referred to by the commentators as Mishne Torah (a repetition or doubling of the Torah).

Comprised of 3 major speeches, in the first one Moshe aimed to invigorate Bnei Yisrael with examples of how the Almighty redeemed them from Egypt, cared for them in the wilderness, gave them victories over Kings Sihon & Og, and that despite the uncertain outcome awaiting them, G-d would also ensure their victory over the Canaanites.

This speech which somewhat oddly referenced in great detail the success of Esav and Lot’s descendant in securing ancestral lands in Seir, Amon & Moav, was meant also to give heart to Bnei Yisrael that G-d who provided countless miracles in their past could be trusted to fulfil the promises for their future. Just as Seir, Amon & Moav were given to Esav & Lot and protected against Bnei Yisrael’s incursion, so too should they trust the Almighty would fulfil the promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to possess the land of Canaan as their perpetual inheritance.

Perhaps today as well, we should understand that being unable to fathom the horrible and violent chaos occurring around us nor comprehend its intended outcome, through our faith in the Almighty, we must remind ourselves to trust G-d to fulfil the promise of safety, security and well-being made so long ago to our Patriarchs & Matriarchs.

Thoughts on the Week 11 August 2016


This brief comment is in memory of my late mother (l’Ilui nishmat Brainah Leah bat Moshe Aharon) and for all those who read Tehillim for the sake of others. May your efforts always be blessed.

While the world’s attention is focused on the incredible physical strength and mental determination of those top athletes competing in the 2016 Brazil Olympics, around us an ideological battle continues.

Are we believers in a world view that sees G-d’s direct involvement in history and in our personal lives or do we underplay and ignore G-d’s presence in the everyday and think all is mundane. This was David’s dilemma in Psalms Chapter 3.

Chapter 3:

The 3rd Chapter of Psalms is about overcoming personal challenge & difficulty and gaining salvation through recognising the active presence of G-d in the world (known as Hashgaha Pratit or Individual Divine Providence).

How often do we find others trying to convince us G-d is absent from our troubles?

ג  רַבִּים, אֹמְרִים לְנַפְשִׁי:  אֵין יְשׁוּעָתָה לּוֹ בֵאלֹהִים סֶלָה Many say of my soul: ‘There’s no salvation for him in God.’ Selah (Psalms 3:3)

But this Psalm begins with the familial-political troubles David faced, concluding with his personal thanksgiving to God, who answered the prayer of his afflicted soul when he was forced to flee Abshalom his son.

David, deserted by his people and mocked by his advisors, was hunted by a ruthlessly ungracious son trying to usurp his thrown. Turning to God in desperation, he confessed his faith in the Almighty and found solace and comfort in knowing this too was part of a Divine plan.

ט  לַיהוָה הַיְשׁוּעָה;  עַל-עַמְּךָ בִרְכָתֶךָ סֶּלָה Salvation belongs to the LORD; blessings be on Your people. Selah (Psalms 3:9)

In times of hardship, we may feel helpless and alone. But unfailingly, when acknowledging and seeking Divine assistance, our re-framed perspective is enhanced for the better.

Thoughts on the Week 4 August 2016

RECITING PSALMS According to The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, when people make the effort to do three kind acts a day, depressive symptoms drop by 94 percent.


During my mother’s lifetime, especially the later decades, she was an avid Psalms reader, reciting frequently on behalf of others. This brief comment is in her memory; may the neshama of the late Brainah Leah bat Moshe Aharon be elevated in Heaven.

Chapter 2:

The Book of Psalms is often attributed to King David. But as one discovers when researching its place in Tanakh, there are diverse opinions about whether David really authored all of these (I.e. Songs of the Sons of Korah), whether there were more than 150 chapters initially and if so, how these were whittled down to our current selection, and at what point in time were they all written. (More on this in coming weeks.)

Not knowing whether there is a deliberate juxtaposition between the chapters, it is interesting that Chapter One focused on the Worth and Legacy of the Individual, while Chapter Two looks at National Interests and Destinies. It describes an all-too-familiar scenario of dissent & murmuring – and, while not specifically mentioning Israel, the world’s kings are in an uproar about G-d’s chosen one.

Psalms 2:2 The kings of the earth stand up, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against His anointed:  יִתְיַצְּבוּ, מַלְכֵי-אֶרֶץ– וְרוֹזְנִים נוֹסְדוּ-יָחַד: עַל-ה, וְעַל-מְשִׁיחו.

The traditional interpretation sees this as an event in the life of King David, a warrior who defeated many enemies. These conquered kings appear to have gathered together to complain about David and the Jewish people. But another view is that this dialogue refers to a future time when all nations get together to take counsel and complain about Israel, and the Messiah.

We live in incredibly interesting times. The pace of change seems to have accelerated exponentially. Medical breakthroughs happen almost constantly, wars and civil unrest begin much more quickly, and even vast fortunes are accumulated in much less time to list but a few examples.

In the last year alone, we’re seeing political shifts and changes occurring so quickly; transformations that previously might have taken decades to evolve. Had David Cameron not stepped down as UK Prime Minister, how long if ever might it have taken for Theresa May to succeed him? The same could be said about governments in other parts of the world, including the USA – where the first woman president is likely to be elected in a few months.

When the League of Nations was founded in 1920 (Post WWI), its purpose was to maintain world peace – though the outbreak of WWII proved its capabilities were quite limited. Eventually it was replaced by the United Nations in 1946 and though in its early days the UN achieved some success, of recent many nations seem to be using it to take counsel and vocally complain about Israel (almost exclusively).

As a result, there are those in the religious world who believe we’re not far from a point of immense Divine revelation when many nations will realise the folly of their behaviour and ‘Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling’.  עִבְדוּ אֶת-ה בְּיִרְאָה; וְגִילוּ, בִּרְעָדָה. 2:11

‘Psalm 2 is often considered to refer to the Messianic Era when the kingdoms of the world gather against Israel and are defeated, and Jerusalem becomes a house of prayer for the nations. In this vein, the Anointed One of the Psalm is interpreted not as David but as the future Messiah – who will restore Israel to its former glory and bring world peace.’

A remarkable set of aims for words written at least 2000 years ago that still resonate today!

Parshiot Matot-Masei

Parshiot Matot-Masei are the 9th & 10th in the Book of Numbers covering Chapters 30-36. They begin with a section on Vows & Oaths; the importance of keeping one’s promises, the rights of men to annul the oaths of their daughters and wives when reacting immediately (until or in case the women divorced or become widowed), and the severity of the man’s sin if he hadn’t annulled the vow and it went unfulfilled. 

Parashat Matot continues with the command from G-d to Moshe to take revenge against the Midianites and then be gathered to his people. Moshe called for a draft of 1,000 soldiers from each tribe; 12,000 led by Pinhas who took with him the holy vessels and war trumpets.

They killed all the Midianite men and took the women and children captive, along with vast amounts of cattle and spoils of war. They also killed the 5 kings of Midian along with the Prophet Balaam. Burning the Midianite cities, the troops brought everything to Moshe and Elazar the Kohen in the plains of Moab. 

Moshe, Elazar & the heads of tribes went to greet the returning soldiers. Moshe grew angry with the officers demanding to know why they spared the women whose immorality was the source of the plague that struck Bnei Yisrael. They were told to execute the male children and any woman who had slept with a man, then to wait outside the camp for 7 days. Those who killed a person or came in contact with a corpse had to be purified with water on the 3rd and 7th days, and the same was the case for any garments of leather or natural fibre.

Elazar instructed the troops that in addition to the water ritual, all metal items created by fire would have to pass through fire in order to be purified. Anything unable to withstand fire could be remedied with water.

G-d told Moshe to tally-up the spoils – the captives and animals, and divide them in 2 portions. From the portion of those who went to battle, he took 1/500 as an offering to G-d. And, of the portion second portion that belonged to Bnei Yisrael who didn’t go out to battle, he took 1/50 and gave it to the Levites. 

The totals were 675,000 sheep, 72,000 oxen, 61,000 donkeys and 32,000 women. So the tax given by the troops to Elazar the Kohen was 675 sheep, 72 oxen, 61 donkeys and 32 women. And Moshe did the same for the portion of Bnei Yisrael, giving 1/50 to the Levites. Then the commanders reported that none fell in battle and in gratitude they would pledge the gold spoils they took from battle, a total of 16,750 shekels. These Moshe and Elazar gave to the Mishkan. 

The tribes of Reuben and Gad, who had amassed many herds, saw the land of Jezer and Gilead as good for raising cattle. They approached Moshe and asked to stay in the area of the defeated cities without crossing the Jordan. Moshe asked if they thought it fair that the other tribes should go to battle while they remained. Wouldn’t that turn away the hearts of the tribes from wanting to enter Canaan?

He reminded them of the behaviour of the preceding generation who after visiting the Eshkol Valley perverted the hearts of Bnei Yisrael from going to the land G-d wanted to give them. Instead, other than Kaleb and Joshua, G-d condemned them to wander in the desert 40 years until their demise. ‘Will you do the same now and cause your brothers to be destroyed?

They pledged instead to build cattle pens for their herds and cities for their children, and go into battle with the others until each had inherited his portion in the land. Then they would return to the eastern side of the Jordan.

Moshe accepted their proposal, granting them land of their choice on condition they fulfilled their promise. Then Moshe commanded them in front of Elazar HaKohen, Joshua and all the tribal heads, where they took an oath to go to battle with the other tribes, and in return inherit the lands of Kings Sihon and Og and all their surroundings. Gad built the towns of Divon, Ateret, Aroer, Atrot Shofan, Jezer, Yogbah, Beit Nimrah and Beit Haran. Reuben built Heshbon, Ilaleh, Kiryatayim, Nebo, Baal Meon and Shivmah. Yair, a son of Menashe, captured Giladah, Havot Yair, and Kenat (which he called Novakh).

At the beginning of Parshat Masei G-d told Moshe to write a list of the 42 wanderings of Bnei Yisrael from the time they left Egypt until their arrival in the plains of Moab (interjecting the struggles for water, the oasis in Eilim, as well as the death of Aharon in Hor). 

Next, G-d told Moshe to tell the people they would inherit the land of Canaan from its occupants and that they should destroy the idolatrous images and altars therein. Then they should divide the land; the many should get a large portion and the few a smaller portion; by lottery it would be divided among the households. However, if they failed to remove them, the previous occupants would become a thorn in their side.

G-d told Moshe to command Bnei Yisrael about the boundaries of the land. The Southern border began from the Zin Wilderness near Edom to the east of the Salt Sea. The border passed Azmon to Nahal Mitsrayim before reaching the sea. The Great Sea was the western border going north from Mt Hor to Hamath to Ziphron until Hazar-enan. And, on the east, the border went to Shepham, the Kinneret and along the Jordan River until the Salt Sea.

The names of the 12 new tribal leaders were listed; among them were Kaleb ben Yefuneh and Yehoshua bin Nun 

G-d told Moshe to command Bnei Yisrael to set aside cities for the Levites with surrounding pastures. Beyond the city walls, plots should stretch 2,000 amot in each direction. Six would be cities of refuge for the unintentional murderer and 42 others would be for residence. The number of cities given by each tribe was proportional to the size of their inheritance.

Of the 6 cities of refuge, 3 were to be on the eastern side of the Jordan and 3 in Canaan – to be used by accidental murderers, whether citizen, convert or temporary resident. One who struck with a metal, stone or wood implement was deemed a murderer and denied access; the blood avenger was entitled to exact revenge. But if the murder was unplanned and accidental, the congregation was to ensure the murderer reached the city of refuge where they would stay until the demise of the Kohen Gadol. Should they exit the city before then, blood avengers would have license to kill without recourse. After the Kohen Gadol’s death, the murderers were free to leave.

The law was established for generations that a murderer could be prosecuted on the testimony of 2 witnesses (not 1). Once convicted, no amount of money could redeem them, nor could anyone be bribed to allow a convicted murderer to flee to the cities of refuge. For spilt blood couldn’t be atoned for unless by spilling other blood. ‘Beware not to defile the land, for I, G-d, dwell amidst Bnei Yisrael.’

The Book of Bamidbar ends with a claim from the sons of Gilad of the tribe of Menashe over the inheritance of the daughters of Tselophkhad. Their concern was that when women land-owners married, their perpetual land inheritance could shift to their husband’s tribes. So G-d commanded that (of the original settlers) daughters who inherit their father’s land had to marry within their own tribe. That prevented land parcels from being redistributed to other tribes. Thus, the daughters of Tselophkhad married their uncle’s sons.

For an interesting commentary on these parshiot please click here or here.