| Published: July 11, 2023
This week’s Torah reading, Matot, begins with the laws of oaths. The Israelites wage battle against Midian and the spoils are divided and tithed. The tribes of Reuben and Gad request and receive territory outside the mainland of Israel.
First Aliyah: This section discusses the laws of verbal vows. A person who obligates him or herself with a vow is required to fulfill the vow. Under certain circumstances, a husband or father can annul vows made by his wife and daughter.
Second Aliyah: The Israelites are commanded to exact revenge from the Midianites for their part in seducing Jewish men to sin (described in the end of the Torah reading of Balak, Numbers 25). A 12,000-strong army of Israelites, led by Phinehas, waged battle against Midian. All adult Midianite males were killed, along with Balaam and Midian’s five kings. The women, children, and battle spoils are brought back to the Israelite encampment.
Third Aliyah: Moses is enraged that the Midianite females were spared. “They were the primary culprits; the ones who seduced the Israelites and brought about the plague which killed so many!” Moses exclaimed. All the males and all women who possibly could have been involved in the campaign of seduction were killed. The soldiers are then instructed how to purify themselves from the ritual impurity they contracted from contact with corpses in the course of battle. They are also told how to kosher the food utensils which were among the spoils.
Fourth Aliyah: The spoils of the war were evenly divided between the soldiers and the greater community. From the portion of the spoils given to the soldiers, a tithe of 1/500 was given to Elazar the High Priest.
Fifth Aliyah: From the other portion of the spoils, the half divided amongst the rest of the Israelites, 1/50 was given to the Levites. The army officers count the soldiers who returned from battle, and determine that not a single man was lost in the war. To show gratitude to G‑d for this miracle, the officers donate to the Tabernacle all the gold jewelry which they personally plundered from the Midianites.
Sixth Aliyah: The tribes of Reuben and Gad owned lots of cattle. Seeing that the eastern bank of the Jordan — the lands of Sichon and Og which they had just conquered — had abundant pasture, they asked Moses if they could remain and settle on the eastern bank. Moses angrily responds that they are following in the footsteps of the spies who were fearful of the Canaanites, did not want to enter the land of Israel, and discouraged the entire nation from doing so. The Reubenites and Gaddites respond that they will leave their cattle and families behind in fortified cities, and all their men will proceed into Israel with their brethren and lead them in the conquest of the land. Only after all the land has been conquered and settled would they return to the other side of the Jordan.
Seventh Aliyah: Moses accepts the offer of the Reubenites and Gaddites, and informs Joshua and Elazar the High Priest of the agreement. These two tribes, along with half of the tribe of Manasseh settle on the eastern bank of the Jordan, and conquer many of the areas wherein they encountered opposition.
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