The Parsha of the Week
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June 26 - Balak, Numbers 22:2−25:9
This week's portion is one of the most fascinating psychologically-revealing portions in the whole Torah! Bilaam, a non-Jewish prophet, was granted a level of prophecy close to Moshe's level of prophecy. The Almighty gave Bilaam these powers so that the nations of the world could not say at some point in the future, "If we had a prophet like Moshe, we too would have accepted the Torah and would have lived according to it." Bilaam is an intriguing character -- honor-driven, arrogant and self-serving. Unfortunately, not too unique amongst mankind.
Balak, the king of Moav, wanted to hire Bilaam to curse the Jewish people for a fortune of money. It is interesting that Balak believed in God and the power of invoking a curse from God, yet thought that God would change His mind about His Chosen People. (God is not a man who changes his mind). Bilaam was very desirous to accept the assignment to curse the Jews -- more for the profit motive than the prophet motive.
The Almighty allowed Bilaam to go to Balak (cautioning him to only say what God told him). The Almighty gives every person free-will and allows us to go in the direction that we choose. Three times Bilaam tried to curse us and three times the Almighty placed blessings in his mouth. Balak was furious! So, Bilaam gave him advice with hopes of collecting his fee -- "If you want to destroy the Jewish people, entice the men with Moabite women and tell the women not to submit until the men bow down to an idol." Balak followed the advice and consequently the Almighty brought a plague against the Jewish people because the men fell for Bilaam's plot. We see from this that the Almighty hates licentiousness and idol worship.
July 3 - Pinchas, Numbers 25:10 - 30:1
In last week's Torah portion, Pinchas acted to stop a public display of immorality. He thus stemmed the plague of retribution which was killing the multitudes. He is rewarded by being made a Cohen -- by Divine decree.
The Almighty commands Moshe to attack the Midianites in retribution for the licentious plot the Midianites perpetrated upon the Israelites. A new census is taken of the Jewish people revealing that there are 601,730 men available for army duty. God directs the division of the Land of Israel amongst the tribes. The Levites are tallied. The daughters of Tzelafchad come forward to petition Moshe regarding their right of inheritance. Moshe inquires of the Almighty Who answers in their favor.
Moshe asks the Almighty to appoint a successor and the Almighty directs Moshe to designate Yehoshua (Joshua). The Torah portion concludes with the various offerings -- daily, Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh and holidays.
July 10 - Matos and Masei, Numbers 30:2 - 36:13
Matos includes the laws of making and annulling vows, the surprise attack on Midian (the '67 War wasn't the Jewish people's first surprise attack!) in retribution for the devastation the Midianites wreaked upon the Jewish people, the purification after the war of people and vessels, dedicating a portion of the spoils to the communal good (perhaps the first Federation campaign), the request of the tribes of Reuben and Gad for their portion of land to be east of the Jordan river (yes, Trans-Jordan/Jordan is also part of the Biblical land of Israel). Moshe objects to the request because he thinks the tribes will not take part in the conquering of the land of Israel; the tribes clarify that they will be the advance troops in the attack and thus receive permission.
Masei includes the complete list of journeys in the desert (the name of each stop hints at a deeper meaning, a lesson learned there). God commands to drive out the land's inhabitants, to destroy their idols and to divide the land by a lottery system. God establishes the borders of the Land of Israel. New leadership is appointed, cities of the Levites and Cities of Refuge (where an accidental murderer may seek asylum) are designated. Lastly, the laws are set forth regarding accidental and willful murder as well as inheritance laws only for that generation regarding property of a couple where each came from a different tribe.
July 17 - Devarim, Deuteronomy 1:1 - 3:22
This week we begin the last of the Five Books of Moses, Devarim ("Words"). In English, it is called Deuteronomy (from the Greek meaning "Second Law" – from deuteros "second" + nomos "law" – perhaps because Moses repeats many of the laws of the Torah to prepare the Jewish people for entering and living in the Land of Israel). The Book is the oration of Moses before he died. Moses reviews the history of the 40 years of wandering the desert, reviews the laws of the Torah and gives rebuke so that the Jewish people will learn from their mistakes. Giving reproof right before one dies is often the most effective time to offer advice and correction; people are more inclined to pay attention and to take it to heart.
July 24 - Va’etchanan, Deuteronomy 3:23 - 7:11
Moses pleads with God to enter the Holy Land, but is turned down. (Remember, God always answers your prayers -- sometimes with a "yes," sometimes with a "no" ... and sometimes with a "not yet".) Moses commands the Children of Israel not to add or subtract from the words of the Torah and to keep all of the Commandments. He then reminds them that God has no shape or form and that we should not make or worship idols of any kind.
The cities of Bezer, Ramot, and Golan are designated as Cities of Refuge east of the Jordan river. Accidental murderers can escape there to avoid revengeful relatives. They then wait there until tried.
The Ten Commandments are repeated to the whole Jewish people. Moses expounds the Shema, affirming the unity of God, Whom all should love and transmit His commandments to the next generation. A man should wear tefillin upon the arm and head. All Jews should put a mezuzah (the scroll is the essential part) upon each doorpost of their home (except the bathroom). Moses then relays the Almighty's command not to intermarry, "for they will lead your children away from Me" (Deuteronomy 7:3-4).