Renewing the Spirit by Danny Shlian


Despite its taxing length,, the lengthy double Parashah, Matot-Masei, contains every Ta’am in the Torah, excluding the Shalshelet note. In fact, in Parashat Masei, the Teamim of “Yerach-Ben-Yomo” and “Karnei-Parah” appear for the only time in the Torah. The notes appear on the first “Alpayim BaAmah” in the Pasuk of “UMadotem MiChutz LaIr Et Pe’at Keidmah Alpayim BaAmah VeEt Pe’at Negev Alpayim BaAmah VeEt Pe’at Yam Alpayim BaAmah VeEt Pe’at Tzafon Alpayim BaAmah VeHaIr BaTavech Zeh Yihyeh Lahem Migreshei HeArim,” “You shall measure from outside the city on the eastern side two thousand Amot, on the southern side two thousand Amot, on the western side two thousand Amot, and on the northern side two thousand Amot, with the city in the middle; this shall be for them the open spaces of the cities” (BeMidbar 35:5). The Pasuk refers to the area surrounding the Migrash, open space used for any purpose, around the cities granted to the Leviyim. According to Rashi, the enclosed areas mentioned in this Pasuk were generally used for fields and vineyards (Sotah 27b).

The measures in and of themselves are subject to debates among the commentators—Where does one begin measuring? Do the two thousand Amot include the field, the city and field, or neither?—leading the cities to range in area from four million square Amot (Ramban) to twenty-five million (Rashi) to forty-nine million (Rambam). However, the structure of the Pasuk is also surprising. Why spell out the distance of two thousand Amot needed in each direction, and not use the terse model in the previous Pasuk of “MiKir HaIr VaChutzah Elef Amah Saviv,” “From the wall of the city outward, one thousand Amot all around” (35:4)? Furthermore, the Teamim utilized on each “Alpayim VaAmah” are different: as previously mentioned, the first set is read with a Yerach-Ben-Yomo and a Karnei-Parah; the next three have the notes of Kadma VeAzla, Munach Revi’i, and Mercha Tipcha, respectively. Based on this discrepancy, the Torah seems to indicate that each set of two thousand Amot are not created equally.

It may be that in this section, the Torah is illuminating a commonly observed trend when doing Mitzvot. Every Jewish man feels a spiritual elevation when putting on Tefillin for the first time. While the vigor and enthusiasm lasts for a several months—at most—after the Bar Mitzvah, the initial joy of putting on Tefillin may become a mere chore. Every so often, we need to re-focus and remind ourselves why we do the Mitzvot. This may be the message of the four instances of “Alpayim BaAmah.” The Yerach-Ben-Yomo is the introduction to a Karnei-Parah, which, according to many, is comprised of a Pazeir and a Telisha-Gedolah, two of the most melodious, rising Teamim; a Kadma VeAzla is also a high note, although not quite as musical as the preceding pair of Teamim; a Munach Revi’i, though, is a lower-pitched note; and a Mercha Tipcha, to the untrained ear, can sound like the mere, non-musical recital of words. This sequence may indicate the performance of Mitzvot. At first, one is enthusiastic to perform a new Mitzvah, but, over time, the excitement wears away. This is why the next two words in the Pasuk after the final “Alpayim BaAmah” are “VeHaIr BaTavech,” “With the city in the middle” (BeMidbar 35:5)—when Mitzvot begin to become tedious, we must re-analyze why we perform them. When we keep our eyes on the goal, the performance of the Mitzvot becomes much more appealing and easy. Nonetheless, it is still important to routinely perform the Mitzvot, even when they do not seem as pleasant.

This message—continually carrying out Hashem’s will with a set purpose in mind—also manifests itself in the first major section of Parashat Masei. As the name of the Parashah indicates, it deals with the Masa’ot, travels, of Bnei Yisrael through the Midbar, as communicated via fifty Pesukim, in which the Torah details Bnei Yisrael’s travels during their forty-year journey in the desert. The Torah takes care to include all forty-one stops Bnei Yisrael made from Ramses to Eretz Yisrael, yet again stressing its previous message. B’nei Yisrael uproot their tents forty-one times to move to the next location, with the goal of entering Eretz Israel each time. By placing this message at the end of Sefer BeMidbar, the Torah communicates an invaluable message. By the end of Sefer BeMidbar, Bnei Yisrael are encamped on the shores of the Yardein, preparing to enter Eretz Yisrael in a few months. Although Bnei Yisrael can find spiritual inspiration in the Midbar—from the Man, Ananei HaKavod, or the Be’er Miryam—they fear that by entering Eretz Yisrael, they will have to search harder to find such motivation. Therefore, by listing each stop, the Torah reminds the Jews that they must find ways to maintain a connection to the Mitzvot. In the Haftarah of Matot (this year read on Parashat Pinchas), we read the Pasuk of “Zacharti Lach Chesed Ne’urayich Ahavat Kelulotayich Lechteich Acharai BaMidbar BeEretz Lo Zeru’ah,” “I remember for you the kindness of your youth, the love of your bridal days, your following after Me in the wilderness, in a land not sown” (Yirmiyahu 2:2), explaining how Hashem considers it a Chessed how Bnei Yisrael endure their journeys through the Midbar and remain spiritual. May Hashem remember this Chessed and bring us to Eretz Yisrael.

Have Maturity, Will Travel by Isaac Shulman

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