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Life's Journeys

Matot-Masay (Numbers 30-36 )

by Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

The reading of Parashas Masei always coincides with the season that marks Jewish suffering and sorrow: the anniversary of the destruction of our Holy Temples. But our Torah never speaks of sorrow without imparting hope and consolation. So it is that this parashah imbues us with strength and faith, and the very fact that these tragedies occurred in the Jewish month of Menachem Av, which, literally translated, means "a comforting father," speaks volumes.

The parashah teaches us that we were launched upon life's journeys "al pi Hashem - at the bidding of God,"[1] and that knowledge, in and of itself, is the greatest source of comfort. We are fortified in the realization that our journeys are not just random happenings. There is a God above us Who directs it all, Who oversees our going forth and our coming in. Nothing, but nothing, escapes Him. He hears our cries, He sees our tears, and He never forsakes us. Yes, there is a purpose to our wandering, even though we may not understand it. We are strengthened in the knowledge that there is an ultimate destination to which God leads us.

To reinforce this teaching, the Torah reader chants this parashah to a special tune so that we may be ever mindful that we are not alone. Even as our forefather's journeys through the Wilderness were hazardous, but they arrived safely to their destination, Eretz Yisrael, just the same, so too shall we arrive in the Promised Land, no matter how difficult our journey may be. God is leading us.

The Torah speaks of 42 encampments along life's journey. Forty-two is a mystical number, comprising the letters in God's ineffable Name. There is a kabbalistic teaching that as a result of our sins, those letters in God's holy Name have become blemished, and so we embark upon our journeys to gather those holy sparks and return them to wholeness, to God's holy Name, which we have blemished through our sins. When our journeys become difficult, when they test our mettle and we wonder how we can possibly go on, let us remember that there is a purpose to our journeys. We need only stay the Torah course and God will guide us to our ultimate destination.


Moshe Rabbeinu apportions the land among the tribes in accordance to a goral (drawing of lots).[2] The word goral, however, has a double meaning. It not only means "lot," but also "destiny." The land is our destiny for all eternity. Thus, the Torah teaches us that the Jewish people, Hashem, Torah, and the Land of Israel are forever intertwined. No matter what the political situation may be, no matter what the nations of the world or world leaders may scheme, that land is our Divine destiny, and no human being and no nation can ever negate that. Our history is testimony to that eternal truth. Indeed, there is no nation on Planet Earth that has been separated from its land for almost 2,000 years and yet remained loyal to that land. And moreover, there is no country on earth that, throughout the long centuries, rejected all its occupiers, all its conquerors, to await her children's homecoming. Over 3,000 years ago, our Torah proclaimed that Eretz Yisrael is our goral, the destiny of the Jewish people, and today, history testifies to it.


Moshe Rabbeinu instructs the nation in regard to the establishment of six arei miklat (cities of refuge),[3] three on either side of the Jordan. These cities belonged to the Levites and were to provide sanctuaries to those who were guilty of accidental murder. While their crimes may have been unintentional, nevertheless, blood was spilled and the perpetrator could not simply resume his life as though nothing had happened. Such a tragic deed required spiritual rehabilitation. Additionally, the guilty parties needed protection from the vengeful family members of the victim. So it was that the man who had blood on his hands relocated to a city of refuge accompanied by his family and his rabbi - his Torah teacher.

One might ask why it was necessary for his Torah teacher to go with him. After all, these cities were inhabited by Levites who were all well versed in Torah. But each rabbi, each Torah teacher, has his own unique approach, and when a soul is in crisis and carries the heavy burden of having murdered, albeit accidentally, the teacher who could best penetrate the depths of his soul must be there to teach.

From this we learn that Hashem worries about each and every one of us, so we should never feel that we have been rejected or abandoned by Him or that we are beyond redemption. In the Torah, there is an ir miklat for every person. Now, if God has commanded us to make such provisions for those who committed a crime, albeit unintentional, then we too must extend love and concern to each and every person. Let us merit Hashem's mercy by being merciful to one another.


1. Numbers 33:2.
2. Ibid. 34:13.
3. Ibid. 35:11-15.

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