Parashat Mattot-Mas'ei Numbers 32:42-36:13
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Questions for Young Children

• Have you ever made a promise you wished you had not made?
• How did you get out of the promise?
• Moshe wants all the tribes to help each other out to conquer the Land of Israel. Do you think that the tribes that have land already should remain and farm their land or help the other tribes? Why?

Questions for Older Children
• How many Israelites fought against the Midianites?
• What do the soldiers need to do after battle before reentering the camp? Why?
• How long will it take before a soldier can reenter the camp? Do you think a soldier should go home immediately to his family after battle?

Questions for Teens and Adults
• What do you think about differentiating between the vows made by men and women?
• Have you ever made a solemn promise and regretted it? Did you try and get out of it? How?
• How do you think the English word "swear" came to mean using an expletive as well as making a solemn promise?
• There is a section dealing with purification after battle. Do you see any similarities in the ways we kasher utensils to the procedures the soldiers followed for purification?

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Tongue!

If our family ate tongue, it would be the perfect choice for this Shabbat dinner since the parasha is so focused on the importance of words.  If your family enjoys tongue, you can serve a quick and cold Shabbat dinner combining tongue from the deli with the salad.

Before I knew tongue was really tongue, I enjoyed my grandmother's preparation.  In the summer she served tongue cold with a rhubarb sauce.  Here's her simple recipe:

Tart Rhubarb Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. rhubarb, diced
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 lemon, juice

Directions

  1. Combine the rhubarb and sugar in a saucepan over medium low heat. (Don't add liquid).  Cook for about 20 min. stirring occasionally until the rhubarb is soft.
  2. Remove from the heat and add the lemon juice.

 

 

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Much of this double parasha, Mattot-Mas'ei deals with promises and vows. Chapter 31 opens with God’s words which include a command and a promise to Moshe both of which will be fulfilled. In chapter 32, two and one-half tribes will be granted permission to remain on the eastern side of the Jordan River if they fulfill their promise to send shock troops across the Jordan to help the other tribes secure their inheritances. When B’nei Yisrael are told to go to war, it’s obvious from this parasha there are not only rules of engagement but also rules of disengagement. Soldiers must remain outside the camp for 7 days and clean themselves, their clothing, and the objects that accompanied them to battle before rejoining the community.

Mas'ei, as its name suggests (Mas’ei comes from the Hebrew root nun-samekh-ayin, travel), summarizes the forty year trek in the desert.  Rambam explains that the list of stops in the desert underscores the miraculous nature of the forty years’ journey.  The Israelites were not encamping on the edge of fertile fields where food and water abounded, but were in the wilderness and survived only with the help of God. The parasha ends with the distribution of land--another promise fulfilled-- and the establishment of the cities of refuge for those who accidentally kill someone. And who reappears in the conclusion of the parasha?—the daughters of Tzelofhad who marry within their tribe to keep their father’s portion within the tribe.

Find the food connection...
אִישׁ כִּי-יִדֹּר נֶדֶר

If a man makes a vow...
--Numbers 30:3a

Promise fulfilling salad! 

The Side Dish

The beginning of this reading reminds me of the Yom Kippur prayer, Kol Nidre the legal formula annulling all our vows. Numbers 30:2-3 doesn’t offer any out for a man who makes a vow and later regrets his action. On the other hand, if a woman’s father or husband objects to her vow, it’s annulled. A widow’s or divorced woman’s vow is binding. Some may chafe at the inequality of men and women in this parasha, but in the Ancient Near East where women were often considered chattel, the Torah does at least make a provision for women to utter a vow. I’m interested in the solemnity of the vow for both men and women.

How many times do you hear someone say “I swear” or “I promise” in the course of a day? If you’re living in an orthodox enclave or in Israel, you might hear the opposite. An Israeli dry cleaner might tell you your pants will be ready on Thursday b’le neder (without a vow). Why does Judaism take words, especially promises so seriously?

With each keystroke or syllable uttered, we humans create with letters and words just as God created the world by speaking it into being. When we use hateful language, it’s clear how easily we can destroy a person or a relationship. The Torah and our focus on vows can help us guard our speech in a world where talk is not only cheap, but non-stop. I’m not vowing to avoid vows, but I’d like to concentrate on the last prayer of the Amidah: Elohai, n’tzor l’shoni mi-ra (God, keep my tongue from evil). Maybe that needs an addition and my fingers from texting hatred.

 

 

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Dashes of Trivia about Kol Nidrei
• The Orthodox rabbi, Samson Raphael Hirsch suspended the reading of Kol Nidrei in Germany for several years in the 19th century because he feared non-Jews would think that Jews do not keep their word.
• No one knows the exact year Kol Nidrei was introduced into the Yom Kippur liturgy but it was in existence in the Geonic period, ca. 590-1040.
Kol Nidrei is not a prayer but a legal formula written in Aramaic.

 

A Dash of Commentary

A careful reader might expect to read about Joshua’s leadership in the battle against the Midianites described in Mattot. Where is he? Ramban’s approach is that Joshua’s absence is deliberate and a sign of respect for Moshe. Moshe was responsible for mitzvot on the east side of the Jordan and Joshua would take charge once the Israelites crossed the Jordan River. There is a Samaritan Book of Joshua. In that retelling of the war against the Midianites, Moshe commands Joshua and Pinhas to lead the Israelites in battle against the enemy.

A Dash of Conflict Resolution

Chapter 31 shows B'nei Yisrael resolving their conflict with the Midianites in a war of vengeance (n'kama).  Chapter 32 could have been about a civil war among B'nei Yisrael but, instead, Moshe and the reibes of Reuven and Gad use some of the strategies of conflict resolution to solve the issue.  Reuven and Gad realize that the lands on the east side of the Jordan are well suited to their cattle and ask Moshe if they can remain there rather than cross the Jordan contrary to the original plan for the conquest and division of Eretz Yisrael.  Negotiations are protracted and involvenot just Moshe but also Eleazar the Kohen and the heads of the tribes. Reuven and Gad approach with respect and speaking in the conditional rather than demanding. Moshe hears the underlying motivation--economics--and responds by challenging the values of the two tribes.  Like many of Moshe's other responses, he offers rhetorical questions that place the values front and center:  Will you abandon the rest of B'nei Yisrael for your own selfish desires? Rather than feel put off by Moshe's strong rebuke, the representatives draw closer to Moshe (vayigshu) and offer a compromise that meets Moshe's concerns.  They'll set up the sheepfolds and towns but then they will join the other tribes as the vanguard, the shock troops, for the conquest. Moshe affirms the terms of the compromise by invoking God's name.

I googled conflict resolution and found 57.5 million results.  Today it's an approach that has wide acceptance in many fields. Sometimes we forget that the Torah also deals in conflict resolution.  In this instance and in the instance of Tzelofhad's daughters, the process worked well.  It didn't work as well with Pharaoh and Moshe or the Midianites in this parasha.  Pairing two contrasting ways to handle conflict in one parasha offers a powerful lesson.  

 

 

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I Promise I’ll Eat More Vegetables Salad

Pareve and vegan--Serves 6-8  rsz 09 mattot i promise ill eat more veg salad copy

Plan to make a day ahead or early on Friday morning

Ingredients

Salad

  • 2 Japanese eggplants, sliced on the bias
  • 2 zucchinis, sliced on the bias
  • 2 yellow squashes, sliced on the bias
  • 1 orange pepper, cut into 6 pieces
  • 1 red pepper, cut into 6 pieces
  • 3 whole garlic bulbs, halved
  • Olive oil spray
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 12 oz. mixed greens

Vinaigrette

  • 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 6 oz. red wine vinegar (If you want to be fancy, infuse the vinegar with rosemary)
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1-1/3 c. olive oil

Directions

1. Place all the vegetables except the garlic on an oiled cookie sheet or pan and sprinkle with rosemary, salt and pepper. Allow to stand 30 min.

2. Start the grill and spray the garlic bulbs with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the bulbs about 3-4 min. Turn the bulbs and continue to grill another 10 min. Remove and set aside.

3. Spray the vegetables with olive oil spray or brush with olive oil. Place the vegetables on the grill and allow them to brown on each side until tender.

4. Allow the vegetables and garlic to cool to room temperature.

5. Combine the ingredients for the vinaigrette.

6. Place the greens on a large platter, top with the grilled vegetables. Squeeze the garlic pulp over the vegetables or mix into the vinaigrette.

7. Spoon on the vinaigrette and serve.

You can add couscous for a complete vegetable side dish. Add chickpeas and you have an entire vegan meal.

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