Matos / Masei
by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
Dedicated in loving Memory of Asher Ben A'Faradj Farzan O"H, who passed away
on 23 Tammuz; by wife Rivkah, daughter Sara, and sons Yeshua, Yehuda, Hertzl
and Moshe Farzan.
"Avenge the vengeance of the Children of Israel from the Midyanites; then
you shall be gathered into your people [you will die]. And Moshe spoke to
the nation, saying, 'Prepare men from among you for war, to attack Midyan,
to take the vengeance of HaShem from Midyan.'" [31:2-3]
The K'sav Sofer questions why Moshe changed the statement as given by the
Holy One, Blessed be He, and also why the death of Moshe appears to be
dependent upon the war with Midyan.
He explains, first of all, that Midyan injured the Nation of Israel in two
ways: they caused Israel to commit the sins of immorality and idol worship,
and they also injured "the body of Israel" because many died as a result.
There was both spiritual and physical damage.
Moshe was punished, told he would never enter the land of Israel, because he
said "hear me, you rebellious ones." [Numbers 20:10] He responded angrily
when the nation demanded water, instead of recognizing their pain - they
were thirsty, and concerned that they would die in the desert.
We find, similarly, that Yaakov is criticized in the Medrash for responding
angrily to Rachel when she demanded children. Although it was certainly
incorrect for her to say "give me children," as if Yaakov could give what
only G-d can provide, nonetheless, a person cannot be condemned for
something said in pain. Yaakov should have soothed her and shared her
trouble, rather than responding critically.
The K'sav Sofer says that the same is true regarding Moshe. Even though
Israel spoke badly of G-d and Moshe, nonetheless he should have shared their
pain and not criticized them. He should have realized the genuine hurt that
caused them to cry out.
This may help us to understand why HaShem commanded Moshe to take vengeance
on Midyan before his death, because they caused pain to Israel and caused
many to die. Although he personally did not participate in their sin, he was
called upon to share their need to push the evil away - precisely because he
did not share their pain earlier. This is why HaShem commanded him to take
"the vengeance of the Children of Israel from the Midyanites," and why,
afterwards, he could die - because HaShem wanted him to fix this
imperfection in his soul first. And indeed, Moshe arranged the war to avenge
Israel; this was his intent, and this was his repentance.
Israel, on the other hand, was not given this same instruction. The nation
was told to take vengeance not for themselves, but for HaShem, because
Midyan had angered Him by taking Israel away from his service in order to
serve idols and commit immoral acts. Rather than simply responding to an
attack on themselves (which is inappropriate), they too were called upon to
act on behalf of others - in this case, HaShem Himself.
Text Copyright © 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Menken and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Director of Project Genesis.