Close
Log In using Email

Matot-Masei

The thirst for justice that blinds

Thoughts on parashat Masei

Menachem Mirski  Masei (“Travels”), typically read together with the preceding parasha ‘Matot’, is the final Torah portion in the Book of Numbers. It opens with a recollection of the places where the Israelites encamped in the desert; later God commands the Israelites to abide by the laws of the Torah upon conquering the promised land and to destroy idolatry in the Land of Israel. This week's parasha also outlines Israel’s boundaries and presents detailed laws regarding the cities of refuge for accidental killers:
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 man] who has killed someone — 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. The towns that you thus assign shall be six cities of refuge in all. Three cities shall be designated beyond the Jordan, and the other three shall be designated in the land of Canaan: they shall serve as cities of refuge. These six cities shall serve the Israelites and the resident aliens among them for refuge, so that any man who slays a person unintentionally may flee there. (Numbers 35:10-15)
The rest of the laws on this issue clarify some important details like the distinction between unintentional killing and murder, as well as the role of the avenger. The 19th century American clergyman and writer Henry Clay Trumbull argued that the avenger (hebr. goel ha’dam) was responsible for securing for the victim's family an equivalent of their loss of blood — the loss of life — by other blood, or by an agreed-upon payment for its value: "His mission was not vengeance, but equity. He was not an avenger, but a redeemer, a restorer, a balancer". This explanation is in line with the meaning of the Hebrew word goel, which means redeemer. In addition, the law enforcement of the early Biblical times was usually private in its character: typically the local patriarch was both the family/tribe leader as well as the prosecutor and the judge, thus being the one who administered and enforced justice. The biblical law reckoned with both of these traditions and at the same time pushed for their modification. Therefore, the Torah has always insisted that only the person involved in the killing was to be held responsible, as well as on putting the enforcement of the law into the public domain. The privileges of the goel were so firmly rooted among the people that the provisions for the cities of refuge should be looked upon as a gradual shift from private to public law enforcement. In fact, the Torah still granted the avenger the right to kill when his victim left the city of refuge (Numbers 35:27).
The slaying of a human being, even if it occurs without evil intent, is always an injury, a wound to the community. The institution of sanctuary cities (hebr. arei miklat) had three basic purposes: it was a protective measure, to give everyone the opportunity to cool down their emotions. It also served as punishment for the accidental killer, because exile constituted a form of social death. The third but not less important purpose was to contain and isolate the sin that had been committed, for killing was understood to contaminate both the community and the Land (Numbers 35:32-34).
The accidental killers could leave their refugee cities only after the death of the high priest. This procedure had both a practical meaning - as a rule, it set a sufficiently long period of social isolation (though obviously not always), as well as a theological one - ultimately only (someone’s) death could redeem this sin and here the death of the high priest served as expiation:
For the high priest atones on behalf of Israel, and this incident happened during his lifetime. (Ibn Ezra on Numbers 35:25)
Similarly, Talmud argues that the death of the high priest formed an atonement (Makkot 11a) as the death of all pious individuals counted as an atonement (Yoma 38b; Moed Katan 28a). Maimonides argued that the death of the high priest was simply an event so shockingly upsetting to the Israelites that they dropped all thoughts of vengeance (The Guide for the Perplexed III:40). When it comes to the blood avenger, later rabbinic tradition ascribed to him role performed in modern times by a prosecuting attorney, who pleads on behalf of the victim the case against the criminal and therefore is responsible for bringing the offender to court, finding evidence against him, presenting the case to the court, and collecting damages from the offender. One of the lessons we can draw from these considerations may be that we should keep a proper balance regarding various injustices done in the past, to us, to our people or country. Time is a measure of the variability of all things; reality is constantly renewing itself, bringing new things, both good and bad, both justice and injustice. However legitimate it is to demand justice, we should be careful not to fixate on issues that were once important, but became not so important with time. This kind of fixation can obscure the current problems facing the world, rendering us incapable of properly perceiving the reality around us, including new problems and injustices. Any anger, even the justified and well-founded one, can cloud our senses and our reason. Peace of mind seems to always be the right answer; it is always better to perceive and react to the world with a calm mind than through the prism of various emotions over which we often have no complete control. Shabbat shalom

Menachem Mirski- student rabinacki w Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University, Los Angeles, USA.
Menachem Mirski is a Polish born philosopher, musician, scholar and international speaker. He earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy and is currently studying to become a Rabbi at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. His current area of interests focus on freedom of expression and thought as well as the laws of logic as it pertains to the discourse of ideology and social and political issues. Dr. Mirski has been a leader in Polish klezmer music scene for well over a decade and his LA based band is called Waking Jericho.

Dvar Torah Nitzavim 2022
Nitzavim
Shoftim
Hot-button issues in performing Jewish music in Poland
Va’etchanan
Matot-Masei
Pinchas
The ritual of accepting uncertainty
Sh’lach
Judaism and booze
Bechukotai
Parashat Kdoshim
Acharei Mot
Thoughts on Pesach 5782
Neal Brostoff: Polish Jewish Art Music
Shemini
Eliyana Adler „Survival on the Margins”
Lukasz Krzyzanowski – Ghost Citizens: Jewish Return To A Postwar City
Vayakhel
Parashat Ki Tisa
Tetzaveh
Mishpatim
Parashat Yitro
Beshalach
Miketz
Parsha Vayeshev – פרשת וישב
Vayishlach
The Honey and The Sting
Among the Remnants
Toledot
Chajej Sara (Bereszit 23:1 – 25:18)
Thoughts on Parashat Vayera
History on Trial & Historians Tested – Can Governments Re-write History?
Technology and Upbringing
Ki Tavo
Ki Teitzei
Shoftim
Barry Cohen’s Opening the Drawer: The Hidden Identities of Polish Jews – webinar
Ekev
Matot-Massei
Parashat Pinchas
Stargazer staring at Israel
The Roving Eye and the Wandering Heart
To Share the Sparks of Divine Wisdom
On “moral superiority”
Bemidbar
Behar-Bechukotai
Kedoshim tihiyu – You shall be holy!
To connect people with different visions of life
Parashat Beshalach
Ritual memory – the beauty of Judaism
Truth vs Peace
Miketz
VAYESHEV
Vayetze
Toldot
Chayei Sarah
Vayera
Fulfillment of God’s Promise is Accompanied by… Laughter
What to Do to Live Happily Ever After
SIMCHAT TORAH 5781
Transience as a Blessing
Nitzavim-Vayelech
Menachem Mirski 10 przykazań – część 3 wykład wideo
W bramach miesiąca ELUL wykład wideo
10 przykazań cz1 – wykład wideo
TRZY KSIĘGI OTWIERA SIĘ W ROSZ HA-SZANA – wykład wideo
EKEV
TU BE-AW -OD ŻAŁOBY DO MIŁOŚCI
Devarim
SMAK TORY
Pinchas
LUD TWÓJ LUD MÓJ A BÓG TWÓJ – BÓG MÓJ
Balak
KOBIETY W MYKWIE
Pride Month Sermon
OD TEMPLU DO BEITU -wykład wideo
BLISKI …WSZYSTKIM, KTÓRZY GO WZYWAJĄ
For Shavuot
Rozważania o święcie Szawuot
Bamidbar
Introduction to Jewish Law Rabin Alan Iser [ENG]
SŁOŃCE WSCHODZI I SŁOŃCE ZACHODZI – Kalendarz żydowski
EMOR
Acharei Mot
YOM HAZIKARON AND YOM HA’ATZMA’UT
TAJEMNICE KADISZU
Shemini
CO ŁĄCZY PIEŚŃ NAD PIEŚNIAMI ZE ŚWIĘTEM PESACH?
SHABBAT CHOL HAMO’ED
PUBLICZNA MODLITWA W TRUDNYM CZASIE
Vayikra
Terumah
Yitro
BESHALLACH
VAYECHI
Vayigash
CHANUKAH
Vayeshev
VAYESHEV
Vayera.
NOACH
Too Big, It Must Fail
CHOL HAMOED SUKOT
Haazinu
Ki Tetzei
Chazon
Matot-Massei
Pinchas
Pinchas
KORACH
Force of habit, passivity, fear and their consequences
The King and his Son. Thoughts on Parashat Naso
On Jewish Unity and Diversity. Thoughts on Parasha Bamidbar
Whom Can We Trust?
Has the Time Come For a Jubilee Year?
EMOR
Once Again About the Needy
PESSACH  2019
Ideological wars and social unrest: what can we do about them?
The World Between Order and Chaos
TZAV
Democracy and Responsibility. Thoughts on Parasha Vajikra.
What’s the Role of Religion?
TETZAVEH
What does the Tabernacle symbolize?
A Good Example Shows the Way
Chaos and hate – our outer and inner enemy
Freedom Once Gained Must Never Be Given Up
Parashat Vayera
One Person Can Change the History of the Entire World
Divine Actions Viewed as the Sum of Human Actions
Turning point. Thoughts on the parashat Miketz
Enslaved in Parental Lack of Attention and Brotherly Jealousy
Wrestling in the night
To lie or not to lie? Thoughts on Parashat Vayetze
Infertility – A Shared Problem
External and Internal Beauty.
Local Government vs Sodom
LECH LECHA
The meaning of life. Thoughts on parashat Lech Lecha.
Trying Our Best – Just Like Noah Did
Killing Anger. Thoughts on Parashat Bereshit.
An Ephemeral Booth or a Lasting Legacy? How Should We View Our Lives?
SUKKOT
Is Progress Actually Always Progress? Thoughts on Parashat Haazinu.
YOM KIPPUR 2018 JONAH
KOL NIDRE
Nabożeństwo Jom Kipur | Yom Kippur Prayer 2018
Standing Before the Heavenly Court
ROSH HASHANAH MORNING
EREV ROSH HASHANAH
To love is to see potential. Thoughts on Parashat Nitzavim
Time to be grateful [Ki Tavo]
Elul – the Month of Judgment
Good fortune and justice. Thoughts on Parashat Ree.
SHABBAT EKEV
Who will hear my Shma?
The role of women in traditional Judaism. Reflection on parashat Pinchas.
Thoughts on Parashat Bamidbar
What Kind of Society is “Without Blemish”?
Pesach: Matzah, Spring and Freedom
Vayakhel and Pekudei – Candles, Blessing, Shabbat!
Cindy Paley Poland Tour 2017
Concert Neal Brostoff&Marcin Król – Hebrew Melodies