Telephone Torah Study: There’s a Limit to Conflict


This week’s Torah portion, Masei (Num. 33:1-36:13), recounts the Israelites’ journey over the past 40 years. Interestingly, Moses misremembers key events in that journey.

Given Moses, Joshua, Caleb and Eleazar are the only four still alive from those who set out from Egypt, the Israelites probably assume they’re receiving an accurate account of their history. Was this purposeful on Moses’ part, or an honest mistake? Either way, we learn, that since the people did not question the “facts,” an individual story (Moses’) became the collective history of Israel.

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In recognition of her bat mitzvah this Friday night, fellow Minyan member Marsha Epstein will lead our Torah discussion on Thursday, 4-5pm. To join in on the conference call, please dial 702-851-4044, when prompted punch in 2, then our pass code 22252#.

Marsha provides a printed version of the portion with Rashi commentaries, and the following suggested reading, ‘The Limits of Power and Conquest’ by Rabbi Avraham Fischer:

The journey to the land of Canaan has been long and arduous. 

But, at long last, the conquest of the land is underway. Now, at the end of the journeys there are five utterances, which Hashem directs to Moshe, instructing the Children of Israel how to take possession of their land:

33:50-56–to dispossess all the inhabitants of the land and destroy all idolatry.

34:1-15–the boundaries of the land are described.

34:16-29–the tribal representatives who will help divide the land are listed.

35:1-8–the command to set aside cities for the tribe of Levi, who will not receive a regular portion in the land.

35:9-34–the cities of refuge for the unintentional murderer are designated, and the laws of murder and manslaughter are set forth.

Continue reading on My Jewish Learning

Torah Passage of the Week

Adonai spoke further to Moses: Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, you shall provide yourselves with places to serve you as cities of refuge to which a [male] killer who has slain a person unintentionally may flee. The cities shall serve you as a refuge from the avenger, so that the killer may not die unless he has stood trial before the assembly. (Num. 35:9-12)

Portion Summary

Moses recorded the various journeys of the Israelites from the land of Egypt as directed by God as follows: They journeyed from Rameses to Sukkoth to Etham to Pi-hahiroth to Marah to Elim to the Sea of Reeds.

The Israelites journeyed from the Sea of Reeds to the wilderness of Sin to Dophkah to Alush to Rephidim to the wilderness of Sinai to Kibroth-hattaavah to Hazeroth to Rithmah to Rimmon-perez to Libnah to Rissah to Kehelath to Mount Shepher Haradah to Makheloth to Tahath to Terah to Mithkah to Hashmonah to Moseroth to Bene-jaakan to Hor-haggidgad to Jotbath to Abronah to Ezion-geber to Kadesh to Mount Hor. At God’s command, Aaron ascended Mount Hor and died there, at the age of 123 years. They journeyed from Mount Hor to Zalmonah to Punon to Oboth to Iye-abarim to Dibon-gad to Almon-diblathaim to the hills of Abarim to the steppes of Moab.

In the steppes of Moab, God told Moses to direct the Israelites that when they crossed the Jordan into Canaan, they were to dispossess all the inhabitants of the land, destroy all their figured objects, molten images, and cult places, and take possession of and settle in the land. They were to apportion the land among themselves by lot, clan by clan, with the share varying with the size of the group. But God warned that if the Israelites did not dispossess the inhabitants of the land, those whom they allowed to remain would become stings in their eyes and thorns in their sides, and would harass the Israelites in the land, so that God would do to the Israelites what God had planned to do to the inhabitants of the land. God then told Moses to instruct the Israelites in the boundaries of the land, which included the Dead Sea, the wilderness of Zin, the Wadi of Egypt, the Mediterranean Sea, Mount Hor, the eastern slopes of the Sea of Galilee, and the River Jordan. Moses instructed the Israelites that the tribe of Reuben, the tribe of Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh had received their portions across the Jordan.

God told Moses the names of the men through whom the Israelites were to apportioned the land: Eleazar, Joshua, and a chieftain named from each tribe.

God told Moses to instruct the Israelites to assign the Levites out of the other tribes’ holdings towns and pasture land for 2,000 cubits outside the town wall in each direction. The Israelites were to assign the Levites 48 towns in all, of which 6 were to be cities of refuge to which a manslayer could flee. The Israelites were to take more towns from the larger tribes and fewer from the smaller.

Three of the six cities of refuge were to be designated east of the Jordan, and the other three were to be designated in the land of Canaan. The cities of refuge were to serve as places to which a slayer who had killed a person unintentionally could flee from the avenger, so that the slayer might not die without a trial before the assembly. Anyone, however, who struck and killed another with an iron object, stone tool, or wood tool was to be considered a murderer, and was to be put to death.[17] The blood-avenger was to put the murderer to death upon encounter. Similarly, if the killer pushed or struck the victim by hand in hate or hurled something at the victim on purpose and death resulted, the assailant was to be put to death as a murderer. But if the slayer pushed the victim without malice aforethought, hurled an object at the victim unintentionally, or inadvertently dropped on the victim any deadly object of stone, and death resulted — without the victim being an enemy of the slayer and without the slayer seeking the victim harm — then the assembly was to decide between the slayer and the blood-avenger. The assembly was to protect the slayer from the blood-avenger, and the assembly was to restore the slayer to the city of refuge to which the slayer fled, and there the slayer was to remain until the death of the high priest. But if the slayer ever left the city of refuge, and the blood-avenger came upon the slayer outside the city limits, then there would be no bloodguilt if the blood-avenger killed the slayer. The slayer was to remain inside the city of refuge until the death of the high priest, after which the slayer could return to his land. A slayer could be executed only on the evidence of more than one witness. The Israelites were not to accept a ransom for the life of a murderer guilty of a capital crime; the murderer was to be put to death. Similarly, the Israelites were not to accept ransom in lieu of flight to a city of refuge, enabling a slayer to return to live on the slayer’s land before the death of the high priest. Bloodshed polluted the land, and only the blood of the one who shed it could make expiation for the bloodshed.

Kinsmen of Zelophehad, a man of the tribe of Manasseh who had died without a son, appealed to Moses and the chieftains regarding Zelophehad’s daughters, to whom God had commanded Moses to assign land. Zelophehad’s kinsmen expressed the concern that if Zelophehad’s daughters married men from another Israelite tribe, their land would be cut off from Manasseh’s ancestral portion and be added to the portion of the husbands’ tribe. At God’s bidding, Moses instructed the Israelites that the daughters of Zelophehad could marry only men from their father’s tribe, so that no inheritance would pass from one tribe to another. And Moses announced the general rule that every daughter who inherited a share was required to marry someone from her father’s tribe, in order to preserve each tribe’s ancestral share. The daughters of Zelophehad did as God had commanded Moses, and they married cousins, men of the tribe of Manasseh.

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