Do Women’s Vows Count?: A 21st Century Problem

Do Women’s Vows Count?: A 21st Century Problem

Jul 29, 2022 By Stephanie Ruskay | Commentary | Masei | Mattot

In Parashat Mattot Chapter 30, we learn that if a woman makes a vow, her father or husband can invalidate it on the day on which he hears about it. If he does not invalidate it that day, he is culpable if she breaks it. The only women who can make their own vows and not have them invalidated by a man are divorcées and widows. At other moments in my life, I would have glossed over this section, determined to focus on something more inspiring, and less offensive. Now, I am leaning into it.

Read More
Who Gets the Last Word?

Who Gets the Last Word?

Jul 9, 2021 By Judith Hauptman | Commentary | Masei | Mattot

Mattot and Masei, the last two portions of the book of Numbers (30:2–36:18), are usually read one after the other on the same Sabbath. Are these portions linked by something other than the quirks of the Jewish calendar?

Read More
Restorative Justice from Numbers to Now

Restorative Justice from Numbers to Now

Jul 17, 2020 By Daniel Nevins | Commentary | Masei | Mattot

What does restorative justice look like? The Torah pauses Israel’s journey toward the Land to consider this complex question. Forty years of desert wandering have come to their end, and only the thin ribbon of the River Jordan divides the Israelites from their promised land. As the distance remaining falls to footsteps, urgency mounts to establish values and norms for sovereignty and justice.

Read More
Boundaries on the Move

Boundaries on the Move

Aug 2, 2019 By Benjamin D. Sommer | Commentary | Masei | Mattot

Every week, we read a parashah from the Torah during our Shabbat morning service, and then the beginning of the next parashah during our Shabbat afternoon service. The result of reading from two parashiyot on a single day can be surprising. This week, as we read first from Masei, the last parashah of Numbers, and then from Devarim, the first from Deuteronomy, we can hear an ancient debate about an issue that remains deeply contested: where to draw the line.

Read More
Always Attaining Spiritual Maturity

Always Attaining Spiritual Maturity

Jul 13, 2018 By Joel Alter | Commentary | Masei | Mattot

The US Constitution provides that one must be 35, 30, or 25 years old to be president, senator, or representative, respectively, and the 26th Amendment provides that a US citizen gains the right to vote at 18. In the United States, the right to drink alcohol is established at age 21. One must stay in school and cannot give consent for sexual activity until age 16–18. For a driver’s license, one must generally be 16. So I grimace when we proudly proclaim 12-year-old girls and 13-year-old boys “Jewish adults.”

Read More
First and second haftarot of rebuke

First and second haftarot of rebuke

Jul 6, 2018 By Jan Uhrbach | Commentary | Masei | Mattot | Pinehas | Tishah Be'av

Chapters 1 and 2 of Jeremiah constitute the first two haftarot of “calamity” or rebuke. In them, the prophet anticipates disorienting but necessary societal upheaval; he is called “to uproot and pull down, destroy and overthrow,” and also “to build and to plant.” 

Read More
Upgrading the Torah—and the World

Upgrading the Torah—and the World

Jul 21, 2017 By Benjamin D. Sommer | Commentary | Masei | Mattot

Is God’s law perfect? Most of us would assume that anything created by an omniscient and omnipotent being must have no flaws. But a story in today’s parashah suggests otherwise—in a manner that shows a surprising similarity to a key concept of Jewish mysticism.

Read More
Journeying through Jewish History

Journeying through Jewish History

Jul 21, 2017 By Nancy Sinkoff | Commentary | Masei | Mattot

I first encountered this book in my supplementary Hebrew school at Temple Emanuel of Great Neck when I was a teenager. The documents, photographs, newspaper reports and Yiddish language characters entranced me then. . . . and still do. At that tender age, I thought I wanted to grow up to be a marine biologist. Instead, embedded in my young soul, those images of East European Jews, who had journeyed—like our forebears in this week’s parashah (Numbers 33:1-37)—from far away to a land they did not know, propelled me on a lifelong journey as a historian of the Jews of Eastern Europe.

Read More
A Summer of Discontent

A Summer of Discontent

Aug 5, 2016 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Masei | Mattot

The violent and disturbing events of this summer have given me new appreciation for the book of Numbers, and particularly for its conclusion. After chapter upon chapter of intrigue, rebellion, orgy, and mayhem, attention shifts in parashat Masei, the second part of this week’s double parashah, to a series of routine arrangements and details, elaborated at times in rhythmic repetition.

Read More
The Journey or the Destination?

The Journey or the Destination?

Aug 5, 2016 By Anna Serviansky | Commentary | Masei | Mattot

Life’s like a road that you travel on
When there’s one day here and the next day gone .  .  .

Life is a highway
I want to ride it all night long
If you’re going my way
I want to drive it all night long

Read More
Covenant and Cattle

Covenant and Cattle

Jul 17, 2015 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Masei | Mattot

As the Children of Israel prepare to enter the Promised Land, their backs to the wilderness after 40 years of wandering, the Torah, too, seems to change direction—and even tone. It trades instructions for the priests and narratives of Israelite disobedience for details of land distribution, inheritance and other laws that will regulate life inside the Land. It is as if the Torah wants to underline the transition about to occur—from wilderness to settlement, disorder to order—by changing the visual image before the reader’s eyes.

Read More
Cities of Refuge

Cities of Refuge

Jul 17, 2015 By Tim Daniel Bernard | Commentary | Masei | Mattot

Pu`uhonua O Hōnaunau, the City of Refuge, on Hawaii’s Big Island was functional into the early 19th century, when kapu, Hawaii’s system of ritual taboos, was overturned by King Kamehameha II. Until that time, many breaches of the kapu could result in death, including for an offence as ephemeral as allowing your shadow to fall over a chief’s house. However, by entering a pu`uhonua (a place of refuge), often by swimming across a bay, and performing a ritual facilitated by the priest there, the punishment could be annulled.

Read More
At Home, Running for Cover

At Home, Running for Cover

Jul 25, 2014 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Masei

The past month has been a time of great emotion and tension for those of us living in Israel. From the moment that Naftali Fraenkel (z”l), Gilad Sha’ar (z”l), and Eyal Yifrach (z”l) were kidnapped, there was a sense of foreboding that overtook the country.

Read More
Life’s Journeys

Life’s Journeys

Jul 25, 2014 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Commentary | Masei

In a few weeks, thousands of US high school students will leave home to begin college or a gap year of study and/or service before entering college.

Read More
To Listen and to Discern

To Listen and to Discern

Jul 3, 2013 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Masei | Mattot

Parashat Mattot,the first of the two parashiyot this week, opens and closes with the idea of meaningful and thoughtful communication.

Read More
“They Said”/“They Said”

“They Said”/“They Said”

Jul 2, 2013 By Walter Herzberg | Commentary | Masei | Mattot

In this week’s parashah, we are told that the children of Reuben and Gad “had a very great multitude of cattle” (verse 1) and the land of Gilead on the eastern side of the Jordan was an excellent “place for cattle.” They, therefore, hoped that Moses would permit them to stay on the eastern side of the Jordan and not cross over to Canaan/Israel proper when the time would arrive to enter the Land.

Read More
Finding Holiness in the Wilderness of Life

Finding Holiness in the Wilderness of Life

Aug 18, 2012 By Abigail Treu | Commentary | Text Study | Masei | Mattot

That life is ever changing makes us curious, grateful, wary. How are we to navigate the ‎uncertainty in a way that makes us feel rewarded?

Read More
The Source of Hope

The Source of Hope

Jul 21, 2012 By Mychal Springer | Commentary | Masei | Mattot | Tishah Be'av

In a dramatic reversal of the ordinary mourning process, ‎which begins in its starkest intensity and lifts over time as the mourners are comforted, ‎these are weeks of increasing mourning that move, inevitably, to the destruction of ‎God’s house and the banishment of the People into exile. The prophetic readings drive ‎home that we have brought this horrible tragedy on ourselves.

Read More
The Blessing for What Goes Into our Food

The Blessing for What Goes Into our Food

Jul 30, 2011 By Abigail Treu | Commentary | Text Study | Masei

Are blessings over food spontaneous or rote? Do we bless our food out of gratitude for nourishment—or do we use the moments surrounding that most basic animal act of eating for spiritual uplift?

Read More
“On the Road”

“On the Road”

Jul 30, 2011 By Marc Wolf | Commentary | Masei

Standing at the precipice of the Promised Land, Moshe looks back with the people and relates their journey with the same sweeping overview that Sal Paradise narrates. “These were the marches of the Israelites who started out from the land of Egypt, troop by troop, in the charge of Moses and Aaron” (33:1). What follows through the first half of the parashah is a virtual Trip Tik of the journeys of the children of Israel.

Read More
Reset Search

SUBSCRIBE TO TORAH FROM JTS

Our regular commentaries and videos are a great way to stay intellectually and spiritually engaged with Jewish thought and wisdom.