The double portion of Matot-Massei starts off with a detailed description of vows. It is important to understand the serious nature of using our words to make a vow or an oath and the potential for positive or negative repercussions. Following the Israelites’ immoral conduct and idol-worshiping that resulted in a plague which killed 24,000 people, vows were used in a positive way to create boundaries. By stating that you will or will not do a particular thing or behave in a certain way, you can create a framework for your behavior. Our words have very real power and when we state something, we create an opening in the higher worlds for that which we stated to come true. A problem potentially arises when we make a vow and then do not follow through on our word. We essentially have created an opening for which to fulfill the vow and if we do not complete it, the space remains open for negativity to enter. This concept is so important that on Erev Rosh Hashanah, we recite a special prayer in front of 10 men which serves to annul all vows taken and not fulfilled in the prior year. Similarly, you will sometimes hear a person end a statement with the words – “bli neder” – which serves to qualify the commitment to do something without the strength of a vow. The simplest things from “I’ll call you tomorrow” to “I’ll be there on Sunday to help you move”, are commitments which must be taken seriously or annulled to avoid creating a space which remains open – or unfulfilled. We also see in the Torah how the power of our words has tremendous impact. When Jacob stated that “whoever stole Laban’s idols will die” – he did not know it was Rachael, who subsequently died during childbirth. Similarly, we say “G-d forbid”, whenever we hear negative words in order to prevent the words from manifesting within our reality. The lesson in this portion is to pay attention to our words and try to avoid making vows which we know we cannot or will not fulfill.
The portion of Matot continues with what appears to be a harsh decree by G-d to destroy the Midianites, the people who had tempted the Israelites into immoral acts and idol-worshiping – ultimately resulting in a deadly plague. Further, we read how Moses became angry when he found out that some of the women were left alive and then instructs the officers to have all of the women killed – except those that had not “known a man” by lying with him. We can learn here the importance of stamping out negativity completely. Similar to how the Israelite’s had to completely eradicate the source of temptation and negativity in Midian, we too must make sure when we look to remove ourselves from a negative situation or bad habit, we must “go all the way” and not leave any opening for the cause to reoccur. The lesson here is to make the effort 100% when trying to overcome any type of temptation.
At the end of Matot – the descendents of the tribes of Reuben and Gad ask Moses for land for their families and livestock in an area across the Jordan River from Israel, not within the Holyland. G-d becomes angered as a result of their desire to not follow G-d’s word to enter Canaan (Israel) and threatens to destroy the entire community – or have them wander for another 40 years. This was similar to what happened with the spies in the portion of Shlach Lecha, when they reported back to Moses with stories about Israel which scared the community. The difference here, however, is that the tribes subsequently come to Moses and say they will arm themselves and lead the children of Israel across the Jordan into Canaan. They would fight and subdue the inhabitants of the land and would not return to their desired place until after “all the children of Israel had inherited his inheritance within the land”. This appeases G-d, and Moses gives them their inheritance outside of Israel, across the Jordan. We can see how the act of sharing by the tribes of Reuben and Gad, going against their nature to fight on behalf of the other tribes, resulted in their wishes being fulfilled. Similarly, when we want something in our lives, we should always think about how we can give of ourselves or share with others first.
The portion of Masei read as part of this week’s double portion, commences with the recounting of the Israelites’ journey with Moses and Aharon from Egypt to Mt Sinai and then onto Israel. The 42 journeys represents and connects us to the 42-letter name of G-d revealed in the Zohar and found in the Ana Bekoach – a powerful ancient prayer used by the Kabbalists to connect to G-d and creation ( livingwisdom.kabbalah.com/prayer-kabbalist ). By reading the portion and connecting to the 42 journeys, we can activate the 42-letter name and bring the consciousness of creation into our lives. We also see how the Torah describes each journey as a distinct journey, meaning they journeyed from A to B and then the journeyed from B to C. Each time we make a journey in our lives, we are leaving a metaphysical Egypt (Mitzrayim) – which represents limits and boundaries and pushing ourselves to a higher state of consciousness. Every progression in our lives is a quantum leap – a complete departure or journey from how we previously conceived our lives, G-d, or our relationships. The secret here is to keep journeying upward, never looking back at the past, but only to see it as an integral part of our future and current existence. The 42 journeys encapsulate the journey from Egypt (limitation) to Israel (holiness and infinite consciousness). We should strive to achieve freedom from limitation in every journey and every step forward within our lives.
When we end this double portion and the Book of Numbers, (as we do when we complete any of the 5 Books of Moses) we say “Chazak, Chazak, V’Nischazek” – be strong, be strong and may we be strengthened! The word Chazak has the numerical value of 115. When said 3x, it equals 345, the same numerical value of Mem Hei Shin, one of the 72 Names of God used by Kabbalists to connect to strength and healing. We can connect to healing energy this week to provide us with protection and strength during the intense 3-week period we are in now – known as The Three Weeks. The Three Weeks spans from the 17th of Tammuz and culminates on the 9th of Av – Tisha B’Av, considered a day of mourning as a result of several calamaities that have befallen the Jewish people on that day throughout history.