Parashat Masei – Erev Shabbat 29 July 2022 (5782)
Week of 24 – 30 July 2022
Torah portion: Numbers 33:1-36:13 Haftarah: Jeremiah 2:4-28; 3:4
Theme: Journeys of Judgment and Justice
Our family just returned from a wonderful trip, attending family reunions, celebrating milestone birthdays, and visiting iconic locations throughout Idaho, Washington and Oregon. Along the way, I kept a journal to remember our travels — not too unlike the opening chapters of Parashat Masei or “Journeys.” Israel’s adventure of marching and camping across the Promised Land is one journey, yet I also note additional Journeys of Judgment and Justice spread across the Torah portion and the Haftarah.
A Journey of Judgment begins in Numbers, as the LORD instructs Israel to drive out all inhabitants, destroy all carved figures and cast images, and eliminate shrines as they cross into Canaan. (Num. 33:51-52 CEB) If they do not, the LORD warns, “Those you allow to remain will prick your eyes and be thorns in your side. They will harass you in the land in which you are living.” (Num. 33:55) History tells us idolatry was indeed not eliminated, infidelity flourished, and Israel’s Journey of Judgment continued in Jeremiah. “They pursued what was worthless and became worthless…I brought you into a land of plenty, to enjoy its gifts and goodness, but you ruined my land; you disgraced my heritage…You have as many gods, Judah, as you have towns.” (Jer. 2:5, 7, 28) The judgments of God and the instructions that flow from them are often challenging to hear, understand and enact. And yet, their astuteness is also regularly confirmed. I reflect on how many instructions from the LORD I have bristled at and struggled obeying, even though I know his judgments far surpass my own.
The Journey of Judgment is not Israel’s only journey in this parasha. We also see a Journey of Justice, continuing from what began last week in Parashat Pinchas when Zelophehad’s five daughters approached Moses about land inheritance laws. (Num. 27:1-9) Their inquiry challenged the injustice of withholding land from their family simply due to a lack of sons. With God’s approval, the inheritance laws were changed, only to again be challenged and amended this week. (Num. 36:1-13) The amendments appear to retract previous gains by limiting the women who have inherited land to only marry within their tribe. However, the amendments recognize the necessary tension between individual and communal rights, a necessity for intertwined lives. “In a society, community, or family, one person’s needs and desires must be weighed against those of others. Final authority should not belong to one member only, nor should laws be made based on the interests of only one party.” The amendments demonstrate: “the most effective and enduring changes are those that create justice for all members of society.” (Zimmerman)
As Israel journeyed into the Promised Land, marching and camping, they experienced several journeys. These Journeys of Judgment and Justice helped Israel discover how the LORD values fidelity, human life, justice, and community – discoveries that continue to echo forth yet today!
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. When have you struggled hearing, understanding and/or enacting instructions that arise from the LORD’s judgments? What have you learned from these experiences? 2. Consider the tension between individual and communal justice. Discuss experiences when one has been over/under-emphasized. How should they best be held in tension?
Bibliography: Zimmerman, J.B. “Real Change in the Torah,” in Eskenazi, T.C. and A.L. Weiss. The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (New York: 2008).
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Rev. Dr. Kristen Bennett Marble, USA, Bat Kol Alumna: 2013