This week we study Parashat Masei (Numbers 33:1-36:13).
* This is the end of the Torah narrative. Deuteronomy is one long speech by Moshe to the Jews.
* There’s no fancy parade as the Jews prepare to enter their homeland of Israel. Instead, there are some stern teachings about death. The Torah does not emphasize that everything is going to be made great in the world to come. It emphasizes what we can do to clean up this world.
* The 42 places where the Jews stopped are less important than that the Jews left Egypt. What I did after leaving porn was less important than that I left. Sometimes the most important thing in life is to leave and other times the most important thing is to arrive.
* God told Moses to keep a diary of the journey (it could’ve taken a three-day hike from Egypt, instead takes 40 years). We should all keep diaries. Writing is a mirror to the mind, says Dennis Prager. If we don’t know where we’ve been, we’re less likely to be grateful.
* Like the Jews in the desert, we Jews in the diaspora are on a journey. Our destination is Israel. Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk gave this assessment of Jewish exile: “Woe to the ones who imagine that Berlin is Jerusalem.”
* In the Torah, the Jews constantly lament leaving Egypt (the place they should leave behind) but never lament leaving Mount Sinai (the place they should take with them).
* The story of Israel’s redemption from Egypt. Hasidic masters teach this as being about personal redemption from slavery. The religious zionists teach this redemption as primarily national-political. The Three Weeks, are they primarily about personal redemption or national redemption?
* One of the place names is kivrot hataavah – the burial place of desire and lust. Never been there.
* The modern state of Israel gave away Azza and Jericho to the Palestinians. These are the historic entrances to the land of Israel by the Jews 3200 years ago. (Rabbi Ari Kahn)
* Do you have any opinion on the proper borders for the state of Israel (Num. 34:2)? The Lubavitcher rebbe, for instance, did not want the secular state to give up further territory because that would jeopardize Jewish lives.
* Why does God set the boundaries on the land of Israel? To tell the Jews not to conquer more. They’re not creating an empire. Imagine if God had said, there are no boundaries. People don’t operate well without boundaries.
* What is society’s attitude towards murder? That’s the most important question. Every book of the Torah reinforces that by man shall murderers be killed. Setting up a good society depends on dealing with the question of what do you do with murderers. Accidental killers can run to a city of refuge and find a haven there. We have a cavalier attitude towards murder. The average murderer serves 11 years. And accidental killers frequently walk away scott free. By contrast, the Torah takes accidental killing seriously. You don’t lead a normal life after.
* The involuntary killer must wait for the involuntary death of the high priest, whose death atones for the accidental killing.
* Only the manslayer may be killed. No member of his family in retribution, as is the custom in much of the world today (particularly the Arab world).