Parashat Masei is the forty-third weekly portion in the Torah and the tenth and final one in the Book of Numbers (33:1-36:13). It is usually read together with the previous portion, making the longest Torah reading ever.
It is quite appropriate that after forty-two weekly portions, Parashat Masei takes a retrospective view, listing the forty-two stations of the Israelites’ journey, from the Nile to the Jordan (33:1-49). The travelogue is broken in two by the death of Aaron, the first date of death mentioned in Scripture: the first day of the fifth month, the Hebrew month of Av. Indeed, this portion is always read on or right before that date.
The rest of the portion looks forward rather than backward, setting out the rules for taking possession of the Land of Canaan, such as the eradication of idolaters (33:50-56). The borders of the land are named (34:1-15), as well as the tribal princes who will oversee the division of the land (34:16-29). This accounts for the other tribes, but the Levites have a special type of ancestral property, forty-eight cities (35:1-8). Six of these cities have an additional role, as cities of refuge for those who have taken a human life by accident (35:9-34).
Finally, Chapter 36 completes the story of the daughters of Zelophehad. In Chapter 27, God commands that they be given their father’s portion as an inheritance, but now the elders of the tribe of Manasseh are worried that they may marry “out,” threatening its territorial integrity. God accepts their appeal and rules that these five exceptional women may marry anyone they want — as along as he belongs to the Tribe of Manasseh. The desire of both these women and their tribesmen to maintain their inheritance within the borders of Canaan is a striking contrast to last week’s portion, when other citizens of Manasseh join Reuben and Gad on the East Bank of the Jordan.
Parashat Masei is a fitting dénouement for the Book of Numbers. Though Israel’s journey has many setbacks and detours, ultimately the Jewish people arrive at the Promised Land. Though Zelophehad will not enter the land — nor even Moses himself! — the next generation will soon see the fulfillment of God’s oath to their ancestors.
The portion from the Prophets is the second chapter of Jeremiah, the middle entry in the Three of Punishment, in which God presents His indictment of the Israelites for betraying Him and following other gods. While not explicitly connected to the Torah portion, the passage does open with a reference to the Jews’ sojourn in the desert (2:6): “They did not ask, ‘Where is the Lord, who brought us up out of Egypt and led us through the barren wilderness, through a land of deserts and ravines, a land of drought and utter darkness, a land where no one travels and no one lives?’”