Sedra: Masei

Sedra: Masei

Ariel Abel is rabbi of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation

By Rabbi Ariel AbelSedra of the week

Masei records the stations at which the Israelites stopped and camped throughout the 40 years of their sojourning.

At some stations, they remained for several years. The reason for such a long wait was due to the subversive report by 10 of the 12 spies sent by Moses. Nearing the end of Moses’ life, the people were now preparing maps to draw borders.

The biblical borders were especially important for later definitions of what was referred to as ‘Holy Land’. The sanctity of agricultural products also depended on the borderlines drawn up in advance of the conquest of Canaan under Joshua.

Future inheritance is planned for, a good strategy to avoid possible conflict breaking out after the tribes secure victory. Regulations for inheritance are also planned. This process was started off by the daughters of Tzelophchad, who initiated the concerns over future property claims by asking Moshe to ensure their rights as women to individual inheritance from their father, who had died without leaving behind male progeny.

The final topic treated this week is about the marriage of the daughters of Tzelofchad to their cousins, thus keeping their rightful inheritance as women within the family and tribe. This tactic is suggested to avoid strife between neighbours in the future Israelite settlement of Canaan over cross-border claims between different tribes.

The penultimate topic in this week’s reading concerns negligent manslaughter. In a bow towards foreign culture, the idea of family revenge is recognised by Torah.

This is, however, restrained by offering a chance to the careless, though unintentional, killer to escape the wrath of his avengers by retreating to cities of refuge.

This was a lifelong project by Moshe, who himself was obliged to flee the wrath of the pharaoh for having killed a man while defending an Israelite. In the future, these cities are to number a total of 48 townships, with six of those being principal towns distributed evenly on either side of the Jordan River.

This week is the second reading of three occurring in the period between 17 Tammuz and 9 Av. The deracination of our people at the time of the destruction of our first and second Commonwealths has now been reversed by the grace of God.

At this difficult time in the Middle East, we must be strengthened by the vision of Masei, how Moses foresaw our eternal link with the Promised Land and planned for it even before it became reality.

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