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Matot-Masay 5772

Masay (Numbers 33-36 )

by Kalman Packouz

GOOD MORNING! Can you imagine 100,000 Orthodox Jews gathering in the MetLife stadium on August 1st -- and they're not there to see a baseball game? What could possibly bring them together along with many non-Orthodox Jews? Here are some clues (thought they won't really help much): 1) It's a celebration. 2) It takes place every 7 1/2 years and since 1930 this is the 12th one. 3) It's a worldwide celebration and cities that can't fill a stadium or an auditorium are hooking up via satellite feed for local celebrations. It's the Siyum HaShas -- the day the world rejoices the completion of the Babylonian Talmud!

If you had no idea, don't feel bad. "Shas" is an acronym that refers to the whole of the Talmud and the "Siyum HaShas" is the ceremony marking the completion of learning the whole Babylonian Talmud.

In 1923 Rabbi Meir Shapiro, the famed "Lubliner Rav," proposed at the First World Congress of the World Agudath Israel in Vienna that Jews across the world learn the same new daf, page, for 2,711 consecutive days to complete the Talmud. The program is called Daf Yomi, "Daily Page". Since then, every 7 1/2 years, Jews around the world gather to celebrate the completion of the Talmud... and immediately begin to start the next cycle of study. For a Jew, learning of the Torah never ends!

To appreciate the magnitude of this accomplishment, imagine that for 2,711 consecutive days you get up 1 hour earlier to attend a Talmud class before going to Shachris, morning prayers. Or, every day for 2,711 days you spend your lunch hour studying the Talmud -- or every evening you come home one hour later or go to bed one hour later in order to keep current with the page of the Talmud that is being studied that day.

Traveling on vacation or business? It makes no difference; you find a way to learn that page. There are apps that will tell you when and where a class is being held in virtually any city you might find yourself. There are live classes held via the internet. There are podcasts and websites with video archives. One can get the Talmud for his iPad and soon you will be able to get an interactive multi-media edition with translations, diagrams, photos, audio ...

What is the Talmud? Our 3,300 year tradition teaches that the Almighty gave the Torah to the Jewish people at Mt. Sinai. He dictated it word for word and letter by letter to Moses, who wrote it down in a scroll. Every subsequent Sefer Torah, Torah Scroll, was then checked against the original for accuracy. (It is commonplace in the synagogue for the Torah reading to stop in the middle over a cracked, faded or even a missing letter; if the Torah is not perfect, it is rolled up, the belt is placed on the outside of the mantle and it is not used until fixed. Another Torah Scroll is used to finish the reading). This is the Written Torah; in Hebrew it is called the Chumash, referring to the Five Books it contains (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy); in English it is called the Pentateuch.

The Written Torah is only "half" of the Torah. The other "half" is the Talmud, the explanation of the meaning and application of the laws and standards set forth in the Torah. It also contains aggadata, homiletical stories which transmit insights into life, values and the mystical traditions. This explanation was handed down as the Oral Law to ensure the accuracy of its transmission (unlike the game "telephone" where one passes a word or sentence from mouth to ear to see how it becomes transmuted, the Oral Law transmission process was rigorous with constant testing for exactitude). Close to 2,000 years ago because of Roman persecutions, the Sages redacted the Oral Law into the Mishna, Teachings; the expanded commentary on the Mishna was redacted approximately 1,500 years ago as the Talmud (also known as the Gemara in Aramaic, the language of the Talmud). Together the Torah and the Talmud are the central unifying force of the Jewish people.

Who is invited to the celebration? Every Jew who cares about being Jewish, who either has a thrill of being part of an event of this magnitude or who is curious as to what would cause so many people to dedicate a portion of each day for more than 7 years to learning Talmud. Any Jew who yearns for Jewish unity and wants to experience it should be sure to attend! (Check your local Jewish newspaper, your synagogue, search the internet or call Agudath Israel at 212-797-9000 for a location near you.)


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Torah Portion of the Week
Matos and Masei

Matos includes the laws of making and annulling vows, the surprise attack on Midian (the '67 War wasn't the Jewish people's first surprise attack!) in retribution for the devastation the Midianites wreaked upon the Jewish people, the purification after the war of people and vessels, dedicating a portion of the spoils to the communal good (perhaps the first Federation campaign), the request of the tribes of Reuben and Gad for their portion of land to be east of the Jordan river (yes, Trans-Jordan/Jordan is also part of the Biblical land of Israel). Moshe objects to the request because he thinks the tribes will not take part in the conquering of the land of Israel; the tribes clarify that they will be the advance troops in the attack and thus receive permission.

Masei includes the complete list of journeys in the desert (the name of each stop hints at a deeper meaning, a lesson learned there). God commands to drive out the land's inhabitants, to destroy their idols and to divide the land by a lottery system. God establishes the borders of the Land of Israel. New leadership is appointed, cities of the Levites and Cities of Refuge (where an accidental murderer may seek asylum) are designated. Lastly, the laws are set forth regarding accidental and willful murder as well as inheritance laws only for that generation regarding property of a couple where each came from a different tribe.

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Love Your Neighbor by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

After emphatically conveying the law that a murderer may not ransom himself from receiving the death penalty (for intentional murder) or exile to a City of Refuge (for an unintentional murder), the Torah states: "You shall not pollute the land wherein you are ..." (Numbers 35:11) without justice being done. The word "pollute" in Hebrew is "tachanifu," the same word that means "flattery." The Sifre, the halachic Midrash, tells us that this verse forbids us to flatter -- insincerely praise -- a wrongdoer. Flattering a wrongdoer is termed chanifus and is a very serious offense.

Rabainu Yonah, author of Shaarey Tshuvah, The Gates of Repentance, gives us the following insights into flattery:

1) The worst form of flattery is telling a person, "You have not done anything wrong" though the speaker knows the person transgressed. This will cause the transgressor to repeat his misdeeds.

2) It is considered flattery to say that an evil person is a good man. Even if you don't say his crimes were proper things to do, it is wrong to praise him.

3) Failure to censure someone when you are in a position to do so is considered flattery. Our sages tell us in the Talmud, (Tractate Shabbos 44b): "Whoever is able to protest against the wrongdoings of his household and fails to do so, is held accountable for their behavior. If a person is able to protest against the wrongdoings of the inhabitants of his city and fails to do so, he is held accountable for their behavior. If a person is able to protest against the wrongdoings of the inhabitants of the entire world and fails to do so, he is held accountable for their behavior."

(or go to

Jerusalem 7:08
Guatemala 6:17 - Hong Kong 6:50 - Honolulu 6:57
J'Burg 5:16 - London 8:48 - Los Angeles 7:44
Melbourne 5:05 - Mexico City 7:58 - Miami 7:55
New York 8:04 - Singapore 6:58 - Toronto 8:35


Life can be pulled by goals
just as surely as it can be pushed by drives
--  Viktor Frankl

In Loving Memory of

Danny Singer

May the Almighty Grant Comfort
to his children, Shaina and Yosef

and his brothers, Marc and Alan



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