Parashat Matot Erev Shabbat 22 July 2022
Week of 17-23 July 2022
Torah portion: Numbers 30 :2-32 :42  Haftarah: Jeremiah 1:1-2-2Theme: “Vows, Vengeance and Settlements”

A women’s Commentary” gives an intriguing title to the introduction to this Parasha as “Vows and Vengeance.” The outline of the contents is as follows: I) Internal Life of the Israelites; II) External Relationships; and III) Negotiating Settlements. I find in this Parasha very difficult and disturbing instructions and narratives that have caused me to become quite paralysed. So what do I do? Begin “in the beginning” as the Bible does!

“Heads of the tribes (matot)” (30:3) according to the commentary in the “Spirit-Filled Life Bible” (NKJV) this is the only place in the Pentateuch where this phrase is used.  The comment is that “the authoritarian structure of the tribe and family is introduced” at the beginning of this section. We also notice that according to the divisions suggested by “A Women’s Commentary” this is the introduction to the “Internal Life of the Israelites” which concerns the taking of vows by men and women.

We notice that regarding vows, there are no releases for the male even one who is dependent upon his father. The same applies to an independent woman (a widow or divorcee). There is no mention of an independent single woman. It is still the case even today especially in any institutional structures (religious or political) – a woman is regarded only in how she is related to a man.

Chapter 31 tells of the war against Midian. Fox (1997) refers us to Num. 21 which describes “the recognized war traditions” into which he places this chapter. He thinks that the cruel aspects of this war could be “jarring to modern Jewish and Christian readers”. When I look at our world today and all the struggling and dying people as a result of ‘war’, I feel that the only differences are the weapons and the reasons for such cruel attacks on other human beings and their homes and settlements! As far as human beings are concerned I feel: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Eccl. 1:9)

I am disturbed by the narration of Moses’ ordering the commanders and officers, after what was regarded as a ‘successful’ attack on the Midianites, as follows: “Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him.” (31:17) A further disturbing narration is how the spoils were divided (31:25-54).

Verses 19-24 describe the need to be ritually cleaned after the ‘killing’ of the Midianites. Fox states that this demonstrates “some ambiguity about war”.

According to the narrator, the LORD is the one who instructed Moses: (31:1-2, 7, 25-27, 41, 47). In Exodus 4:11-17 we read how the LORD tells Moses that he shall be the mouth of the LORD: “‘He (Aaron) indeed shall speak for you to the people; he shall serve as a mouth for you, and you shall serve as God for him. Take in your hand this staff, with which you shall perform the signs.’” (Vv. 16-17) The Bible is the revelation of God through the words and experiences of frail human beings.

      The final section of this Parasha (chapter 32) narrates the “provision for Tribal Territory – East of the Jordan”.

For Reflection and Discussion: 1) How do you answer the person who says: “The Old Testament is full of war and destruction and shows us more a God of war than of compassion”?.

Bibliography: Eskenazi, T. C. Weiss, A.L.  A Women’s Commentary (New York: 2008); Fox, Everett. The Five Books of Moses (New York: 1997); Hayford, Jack (gen. ed.) Spirit Filled Life Bible (Nashville:1991); www.biblegateway.com NRSVACE

This week’s Parashah Commentary was prepared by
Bernadette Teresa Chellew, South Africa, Bat Kol Alumna: 2008

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