Parashah of the week: Mattot-Massei

These are the decrees that God commanded Moses between a man and wife, a father and daughter” Numbers 30:7


A torah (Hebrew scripture) reading. The "yod" - a hand-shaped silver pointer - is used by the reader to mark his or her place in the text.

Eureka! SometimeS one spots certain patterns, only to realise the pattern exists more widely (note the large number of verses beginning with a vav in our sedarot as an example, which is a phenomenon throughout much of the Torah).

Although in the verse above the instructions regarding the annulment of vows is given to Moses, in the opening verse it is the responsibility of the heads of the tribes. Moses is in charge of the transmission of the rules and the heads of the tribes then follow.

Some responsibilities are given to the entire nation, others are limited to a cadre (mitzvot for Cohanim, for example) and others pertain to different roles. In Mattot we have the soldiers, in Massei we have the princes apportioning the land and the Levite cities.

Is Judaism for everyone or for a select few? It depends on observance versus interpretation. Most mitzvot are for all. Judaism is individualistic in observance — people are to make their own choices and forge their connection with God. And all are encouraged and expected to further their Jewish learning.

Yet the interpretation of Torah is the role of the experts who have the necessary experience and degree of knowledge. As the Rambam writes, even at Mount Sinai the Torah was understood on different levels by different people, hence different groups occupying different positions: Moses ascended the mountain, Joshua halfway, the elders a bit below and the nation at the foot.

This is expressed in the way Judaism regards different generations. In honouring parents — and to some extent in respecting elders — we recognise that they are the link in our golden heritage chain and responsible for transmission to the next generation, a key time for this being Seder night.

For this transmission to remain intact it is crucial that we are aware of generational change. What worked educationally and experientially for previous generations cannot be simply copied and pasted blindly for the current generation.

When searching for truth is replaced by searching for relevance or pleasure, new methods of packaging the same enduring Jewish “product” need to be rolled out. No longer can younger generations be told “they have a duty” or “Come to shul, that’s what we did growing up”; they don’t “just do”, they need positive reasons to do it.

With new challenges and methods of communication shaping the way people process information, these all need to be catered to, otherwise our link in the timeless chain is in danger of corrosion.

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