Weekly Reading Insights: 

Mattot-Massei

BS"D

From The Masters Of Kabbalah and Chumash (5 Books of Moses)

13th century - "RambaN" - Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman

14th century - "Bachya" - Rabbi Bachya ben Asher

16th century - "Alsheich" - Rabbi Moshe Alshech of Tsfat

17th century - "Shelah" - Rabbi Yeshaiya Horowitz

18th century - "Ohr HaChayim" - Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar


Ramban

"And Moses spoke unto the heads of the tribes" [30:2]

The reason why he did not address this section to the entire people is because it was not necessary to teach all the children of Israel that the father and the husband can declare void those vows [of their daughter or wife, respectively] which involve affliction of the soul, and perhaps it is necessary to conceal this right from them, so that they should not treat vows so lightly. But it was to the Sages of Israel, the heads of their tribes, that he taught the ordinance [of vows]. The verse also alludes to the interpretation of our Rabbis [who said] that the heads of the tribes [i.e., the Sages] have a special function and power in vows over and above the rest of the people, namely, that a single person who is an expert in the laws can release a person from a vow.

Now the [power of] release from vows [by a Sage] is not expressly stated in the Torah, but it is a law declared to Moses on Sinai, and Scripture "hung it on a hair's breath," just as the Rabbis have said: "[The rules concerning] the release from vows [by a Sage] hover in the air, and have nothing [in Scripture itself] on which they can be based." But Scripture did allude to it [by saying]: 'lo yacheil' (he shall not profane) his word. For it did not say: "he shall not transgress his word." But commanded that he should not make "profane" his word, meaning that he should not treat the vow as a hollow [and irreverent] thing; and when he comes to the court and they find him a cause for absolution and he regrets [having made the vow], and they release him thereof, he is not profaning it. And the reason for this [law being indicated in this manner of allusion] is as I have said [above], that Scripture treated absolution from a vow or oath as if it were one of the secrets of the Torah which are only to be revealed to those who are fit to [hear] them, and therefore they are written [in the Torah] in allusion.

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Rabbeinu Bachya

"If a man makes a vow to G-d…." (ish ki yadur neder) [30:3]

A kabbalistic approach: the word yadur is related to dira "dwelling." The word "to G-d" means that the vow is directed to the Lord Who is the "Dwelling Place of the universe," The G-d Who created His world and the seven celestial regions emanating from there. When anyone fulfills his vows it is as if he thereby confirms his belief in this dwelling of the Lord in those regions, whereas when anyone defaults on his vows it is as if he denied such beliefs. The former is assured that his soul will return to that dwelling, whereas the ones failing to honor their vows will be removed from those domains permanently. The word neder alludes to a certain thing and its opposite, i.e., the establishment of a dwelling or the uprooting of it.

The same is true of people who honor their oaths or violate them. If they honor them they enter the domain of these seven celestial dwellings; if not, they forfeit that entitlement. The word shevuah (vow-similar to sheva/seven) is a clear allusion to these seven regions.

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Alsheich

"Avenge the avenge of the Israelites against the Midianites..." [31:2]

There are two ways of killing people. One is by inducing them to commit a mortal sin, which will result in the sinner's physical as well as his spiritual death. The other is a mere physical slaying of a person's body, when the soul remains unimpaired, capable of returning to its Divine origin in a state of purity. Since Edom and Egypt had never aimed at more than the destruction of the physical bodies of the Jewish nation [Ex. 15:9, Num. 20:18], G-d commanded us not to hate those nations. But nations that have striven to make Israel sin, such as Moab and Amnon, were not to become members of the Jewish community. In the case of the Midianites, there was even an express commandment to kill them.
The Midianites had aimed at two cardinal taboos. They knew that G-d hated harlotry and idolatry, and tried to trap the elite of the people into these two basic transgressions. Because of either, anyone engaged in fighting Midian could consider himself participating in a "mitzvah war." The dual expression, "avenge the revenge," explains the justification of this war, that the Midianites had aimed to destroy our souls as well as our bodies.

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Shelah

In the portion of Massei the Torah discusses matters that help perfect one's body. The body viewed as the sheath of the soul, has also been created in the image of G-d (Gen.1:27). This is why if someone kills another creature created in G-d's image, he himself will be killed as an appropriate act of retribution. By his deed he has separated a soul from its body (i.e. sheath), hence his own soul will be separated from its sheath.

The act of murder is viewed as if the murderer had also severed the life of the soul in the celestial regions from its "body" in those regions. Although such separation would have occurred sooner or later anyway [by the natural death of the victim, Ed.], the murderer is punished for having brought this about prematurely. Hence his own soul will not find its resting place until the murder has been avenged.

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Ohr HaChayim

"Moses spoke to the people, saying: 'Separate (moblize) from amongst you people…and they will be against Midyan.'" (31:3)

This expedition was based on the attackers' moral superiority over its adversaries as evidenced by G-d's instruction to "avenge." Moses had to mobilize the kind of soldiers whose fantasies had not run wild at the time of the debacle in Shittim. How was he to know which one of the Israelites had indulged in sinful thoughts at the time?
Moses therefore advised each man of military age to examine himself in this matter. This is the meaning of "separate yourselves from your own selves," i.e. examine your conscience if you are morally fit to take part in such a punitive expedition of the morally superior against the morally inferior. Only those who knew that they could qualify under this heading would be considered for the contingent of 1.000 per tribe.
The word 'saying' (lemor) is a hint that these people should all "speak to their inner selves on this subject." Perhaps the very word 'saying' was even an allusion to the sin of illicit sex as we find in Sanhedrin 56 "the word 'saying' refers to illicit sex."
According to Midrash Tanchuma on our verse these men were all righteous. Although we have explained elsewhere that one can only derive such a conclusion from the words anashim (people) when this word is superfluous in the text, in our instance there is independent support for the theory that the anashim mentioned here had to be righteous men.
Seeing this was so they had no reason to worry although they would be far outnumbered by the Midyanites. Moreover, they were not only righteous but they qualified for the appellation chassidim (pious), because they had been confronted with a powerful temptation and had conquered it. Zohar Chadash volume 3 page 195 states that this is the basis for someone being described as pious. This then explains Moses' considerations as to whom to select and how many to select.

The Kabbalists state that sanctity is the mystical foundation of spiritual ascent, whereas the klippa, (the source of negative forces) is the mystical foundation of spiritual descent of a human being. Once a person commits a sin, part of the klippa attaches itself to him and becomes part of his nature causing him to become degraded. The words against Midyan (al Midyan) then mean that these pious soldiers should be able to be "above Midyan," i.e. be spiritually superior. None of the forces of impurity which clings to the Midyanites would cling to these soldiers.

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Sources

Ramban - credits
Adapted from the 13th century classic by the illustrious scholar, philosopher and defender of the faith, Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman-known as 'RAMBAN' or 'Nachmanides', a master kabbalist in his own right and a major link in the transmission of Jewish mysticism-based on the excellent annotated English translation, Nachmanides on the Torah, by Rabbi Dr. Charles B. Chavel

Bachya - credits
Selected with permission from the seven-volume English edition of The Torah Commentary of Rabbeinu Bachya, as translated and annotated by Eliyahu Munk. Rabbi Bachya ben Asher [1255-1340] of Saragosa, Spain, was the outstanding pupil of Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet (the "Rashba"), a main disciple of Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (the "Ramban"). Several books have been written about the Kabballah-based portions of R. Bachya's commentary.

Alsheich - credits
Adapted from Torat Moshe - the 16th commentary of Rabbi Moshe Alshech, the "Preacher of Zefat" on the Torah, as translated and condensed in the English version of Eliyahu Munk)

Shelah - credits
Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz was born in Prague around the year 1565. He served as Rabbi of Cracow and other congregations before he was appointed as the Rabbi of the community of Frankfurt on Main in the year 1610. In 1916, Rabbi Horowitz moved to Prague where he became the Chief Rabbi of the city. He moved to Eretz Yisrael about 1621. He was rabbi in Jerusalem and in Tiberias, where he died in or about 1630. In addition to his magnus opus, Shenei Luchot HaBrit, he also compiled an edition of the prayer-book with a comprehensive commentary. Many of his innovations, including his formulation of the Kol Nidrei prayer, have become part and parcel of the Ashkenazi Siddur.

Ohr HaChayim - credits
Selected with permission from the five-volume English edition of Ohr HaChaim: the Torah Commentary of Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar, as translated and annotated by Eliyahu Munk.
The holy Rabbi Chayim ben Moses Attar was born in Sale, Western Morocco, on the Atlantic in 1696. His immortal commentary on the Five Books Of Moses, Or Hachayim, was printed in Venice in 1741, while the author was on his way to the Holy Land. He acquired a reputation as a miracle worker, hence his title "the holy," although some apply this title only to his Torah commentary.

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