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Summary of Parshat Mattot & Masei

by the editors    
of Torah from Dixie    

Parshat Mattot (Numbers 30:2-32:42) begins with a discussion of the laws regarding vows (nedarim) and oaths (shevuot). The Torah then describes the Jewish people’s battle against and victory over the nation of Midian, followed by a detailed account of the distribution of the spoils of war. In anticipation of the upcoming entrance into the land of Israel, the tribes of Reuben and Gad step forward to request that their inheritance be on the eastern side of the Jordan River rather than in the Holy Land proper, since the eastern bank would be more suitable for their abundant livestock. After some discussion, Moses agrees, but only on the condition that they assist the rest of the nation in conquering the entire land of Israel before returning to settle their inheritance.

Parshat Masei (ibid. 33:1-36:13) opens by summarizing the entire route traveled by the Jewish people over their forty years in the desert, beginning with their exodus from Egypt and concluding with their arrival at the banks of the Jordan River. After commanding the people to drive out all of the Holy Land’s inhabitants, the Torah delineates the exact boundaries of the land of Israel. Since the Levites would not be receiving a regular portion, special cities were to be set aside for them, some of which would also serve as cities of refuge for accidental murderers. In some cases, somebody who unintentionally killed another person would flee to one of these cities of refuge to seek sanctuary and avoid retribution from a close relative of the victim, and he would be required to remain there until the death of the present Kohen Gadol (High Priest). After setting the guidelines for the various categories of murder, the book of Numbers concludes with further information regarding the daughters of Tzlaphchad and the laws of inheritance.

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