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Parashat Matot

Parashat Matot is the forty-second weekly portion in the Torah and the ninth in the Book of Numbers (30:2-32:42). In most years, it is read together with the following portion, making the longest Torah reading ever.

Matot is another word for tribes, and as the portion begins, Moses addresses the tribal leaders to prepare for war. However, before the first sword can be drawn, Moses teaches them the laws of vows. As we saw earlier in Numbers (21:2), vows were often made before combat. In this passage (30:2-17), special attention is given to vows made by daughters and wives, as they are the ones who maintain the home-front while their loved ones go out to the battlefield.

Chapter 31 tells of the War with Midian. Each tribe sends one thousand commandoes, for a combined force of twelve thousand, with Phineas bearing the trumpets and the holy vessels. Their victory is total, and among the dead are the five kings of Midian and Balaam. What is Balaam doing with Midianite royal council? The Torah now reveals that the plot of Peor was hatched by the prophet-for-hire — which explains his eternal disrepute in both Scripture and oral traditions. When the soldiers return, they give half their booty to the noncombatants, with the Levites and the priests receiving their portions too. In addition, the captains and generals give a gift to the Sanctuary to thank God for the lack of Israelite casualties.

Chapter 32 focuses on the request of the tribes of Reuben and Gad to remain on the East Bank of the Jordan (where the Israelites are currently encamped), rather than crossing over to Canaan. At first, Moses is worried that they are making the same mistake as their parents, but they reassure him: they are committed to fighting alongside the other tribes to conquer Canaan. They simply want to return to Transjordan once the fight is over. Moses and the tribal leaders agree, and the two tribes are joined by half of Manasseh as well.

What connects the three sections of this portion is the idea of mutuality. Tribalism can be a negative, but the idea of Matot is different parts of one nation coming together for a single goal; just as the family has members with different roles, the nation needs its tribes, tied together by their common fate.


This portion from the Prophets is the first of a dozen which relate not to the Torah reading, but rather to the season of the year, namely the period commemorating the Destruction of Jerusalem. Thus, this is the first of the Three of Punishment, the first chapter of Jeremiah, in which the prophet is deputized to warn Judea of its imminent fall at the hands of the Babylonians. Nevertheless, there is a linguistic link to the Torah portion, as Reuben and Gad build fortified cities for their families and God promises Jeremiah: “I will make you as a fortified city.”

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