The Blame Game: Matot-Masei 2020

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: When have you been let down by people you’ve looked up to? How did you reconcile your disappointment with the positive feelings you’ve had for them, and still might have?

As the book of Numbers nears it conclusions, Moses — who so often takes the burdens of the people upon himself — is uncharacteristically willing to cast blame and seek vengeance:

The Pitch: “‘Yet [the females] are the very ones who, at the bidding of Balaam, induced the Israelites to trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, so that the Lord’s community was struck by the plague. Now, therefore, slay every [Midianite] male among the children, and slay also every [Midianite] woman who has known a man carnally …” – Numbers 31:16-17

Swing #1: “Balaam bears a message for Moses about the fate of leaders. Both Moses and Balaam are named to leadership. Both are ambivalent; they wish to go but are fearful. … After passing a test signifying obedience to God’s will by identification with the people entrusted to their care, a test carried out by a female (Zipporah and the she-ass), each fulfills these obligations, only to be beaten in the process.” – Aaron Wildavsky, Moses as Political Leader

Swing #2: “The words of Moses to his army were ominous but rich with irony. He had many Midianites relations of his own, and yet the fact that the women and children of Midianites had been spared seemed to move him to a terrible rage.” – Jonathan Kirsch, Moses: A Life

Swing #3: “During [Moses’] anger the Holy Spirit departed from him. Hence you may learn that the impetuous man destroys his wisdom.” – Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer

Late-Inning Questions: Moses is known in the Hebrew Bible as a man of humility and loyalty, but also with a periodically hot temper. Does this side of Moses surprise you? Should we look at Moses more as a hero with flaws or as an ordinary man reacting to extraordinary challenges? How much are our opinions of others dependent on expectation rather than reality?

On Deck at Temple Beth Tzedek: Be sure to wish loved ones a happy new year by sending them honey — contact Marcia Goldstein at by July 20th. In a year with so many challenges, we could all do with a little more sweetness.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of how we form opinions of others, it’s interesting to see the wide discrepancies of reactions to great ballplayers accused of taking performance-enhancing drugs — for instance, many people feel differently about Mark McGwire than they do about Barry Bonds. Is this due to our opinions of the players’ personalities, or perhaps whether or not the players have confessed?

Shabbat Shalom, and stay safe!