The Final Showdown: Matot-Masei 2017

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: When completing a project, do you find the last task to be the most difficult? If so, is this because you purposely left the toughest job for last? Is it because you’re exhausted from what you’ve done before?

In the first of this week’s portions, Moses is informed that coordinating a brutal battle against the Midianites would be his last major task as leader of the Israelites:

The Pitch: “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Avenge the Israelite people on the Midianites; then you shall be gathered to your kin.’ Moses spoke to the people, saying, ‘Let men be picked out from among you for a campaign, and let them fall upon Midian to wreak the Lord’s vengeance on Midian.’” – Numbers 31:1-3

Swing #1: “Why … did Moses, relaying the message to the Children of Israel, say: ‘… to execute the vengeance of the Lord on Midian’? It was quite true that the Midianites had sinned against the Lord, for they had caused His people, the Children of Israel, to fall into immorality. But they had sinned against the Children of Israel, too, because they had caused the death of 24,000 Jews from the plague [at Baal-Peor]. Therefore the Lord said to Moses: ‘I will forgive them the affront to My own honor, but what they did to the people of Israel I cannot forgive. Therefore avenge the Children of Israel of the Midianites.’ But when Moses heard the rest of God’s command, the news that ‘afterward you shall be gathered to your people’ (31:2) so that he knew that the time of his death would coincide with the end of the battle against the Midianites, he feared that the Children of Israel would protest that there was no need to avenge their honor, because they would naturally want to prolong the life of their leader. It was for this reason that Moses told the people that they would have to go to battle ‘to execute the vengeance of the Lord,’ thus stressing that what was at stake was not their personal honor but the honor of the Lord Himself, and that it was not in their power to forgive an affront to the honor of God.” – K’lei Yakar

Swing #2: “So God tells Moses … that he’s going into a battle where he will for sure die and there are no two buts about it. But? No. No buts! And you know what Moses does? Runs right up in there! High knees even! That is the depth to which God (and Moses, I guess) takes promises seriously. Even in the face of certain death, your vows must be upheld. Well, fair enough! The truth is, it’s a pretty apt metaphor for just about everything we do, whether we believe in Him or not.” – Gabe Delahaye, from Unscrolled, edited by Roger Bennett

Swing #3: “Pitched battles were fatal for the Israelites. To compensate for their inferior armament and for their lack of military formation they would attack with a small group of picked men.” – Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel

Late-Inning Questions: To our commentators, what does the prospect of fighting the Midianites tell us about Moses? About the strength of the Israelites? About what God expects of the people? In general, what can a society’s culture during wartime say about the character of the society? Can similar lessons be learned in this case?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We are looking forward to telling you more about our Adult Education offerings this year, including our first foray into the Chai Mitzvah program. Stay tuned!

The Big Inning at the End: Even though I’m a Cubs fan first and foremost, my second-favorite team is the Colorado Rockies, the team of my childhood hometown. The Rockies often are forgotten by casual baseball fans, but they are playing well this year, and include perhaps the best under-the-radar player around: third-baseman Nolan Arenado. He hits for power and average, and fields his position as well as anyone since Brooks Robinson. Hopefully, a trip to the postseason will give him a chance to shine (as long as they don’t defeat the Cubs in the process!).

Shabbat Shalom!