Sedra of the week: Mattot-Masei 
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Sedra of the week: Mattot-Masei 

Rabbi Jonny Roodyn looks ahead to this week's portion of the Torah

The book of Bamidbar draws to a close with a bumper double sedra, the longest weekly Torah reading with 244 verses.

These sedras are an appendix of sorts, or a form of bridge connecting the laws and stories of Bamidbar with Moses’ farewell speech of Devarim.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that after all the objective laws in the past two books, the Torah now empowers the individual to impose additional mitzvot upon him or herself. This section was specifically addressed to the heads of the tribes (called mattot). A matteh is a branch of a bigger whole and sees itself both as a distinct entity and part of the wider whole at the same time.

The method by which the Torah allows individuals or even communities to create their own boundaries is through vows and other solemn promises. In Hebrew, davar means word as well as “thing”. This is because in Jewish thought and law, a word is real, it is actually a thing!

The message here is clear – relationships and society are built on taking people at their word. A word ought to be a commitment, a badge of pride. We live in a world where words are cheap, where (if we can get there quick enough) we can delete social media posts and hope and that no one has read them yet (or worse still, taken a screenshot!).

Especially during the days leading up to Tisha B’Av, let us realise the power of our words and use them to build rather than destroy, to draw close rather than to create distance.

  •  Rabbi Jonny Roodyn is education director of Jewish Futures Trust
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