August 1, 2019 -Matot y Ma’asey
Traveling through the desert
This week we conclude the Bible’s fourth book by studying a double Torah portion: Matot and Ma’asey (Numbers 30:2-36:13). These two sections bring the Bible’s fourth book, the Book of Numbers (in Hebrew, Sefer BaMidbar or the Book in the Desert) to its conclusion.
The two sections not only act as a review of the Israelites’ travels through the wilderness but also through time. It is in these sections that we first see the first fireshadowning of Einsteinian thought: that time and space intertwine. The Book of Number’s two final sections take us on a physical journey, a spiritual journey, and an ethical journey through these abstract and physical dimensions.
Is the entire Book of Numbers is a book about different these different demensions and how they each are part of creation? These journeys revolve around the Hebrew verbal root d.b.r. from which we derive the words for desert /wilderness (midbar) along with the word for speech (midabber). Is the text teaching us that the desert can be an empty place filled only with intangible words or it can be a place filled with actions that become concrete deeds?
Sefer B’Midabar (meaning “the Book in the desert)) is also a book about speech. These two sections begin with the words: “lo yachel dvaro b’chol ha’yotze mipiv/he shall not desecrate his word/actions; but shall do as he promised” (30:3). The Hebrew reader will immediately connect the phrase with the concept of the desert. The verb root <<ch.l.l.>> ( meaning here: to break a promise) is related to the word chol meaning: sand and hollowness. Is the book teaching us that a leader who breaks his/her promise leads his people into an empty desert of mere words.
Judaism a religion that worries less about what one says but rather more about what one does. The Hebrew Bible constantly warns us not to place style over substance. For example, Moses was not a great orator and he would never have won a US television political debate. It was not his style that mattered but the profundity of his thoughts. The Torah emphasized that our words have meaning when they inspire us to act. It is for this reason that the Torah argues for truthfulness. It reminds us that a society based on lies is an empty society; one that in end is blown away by the sands of time.
Is this week’s section teaching us that Hebrew Bible insists that news agencies and politicians provide their citizens not with spin but with reality? Again the Hebrew reader will note the play on words between results and merely words. We are then to create dvarim “tangible results” rather than “dibbur” merely words, that is sounds that fill the air but in the end mean nothing.
The book of Numbers teaches us that it is up to us to decide if we wish\ to live in a midbar (desert) where we do not trust our leaders or our media or in a place where there are dvarim, words leading to actions. How we choose will determine the quality of our society. What do you think?
Youtubes of the Week:
A short history of the many famous Jews in Sports (Well worth watching, it will make you proud)