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Mekor Chaim

July 24, 2011

Parshat Masei

Rabbi Robert L. Wolkoff

Congregation B'nai Tikvah

North Brunswick, N.J.

And so the journey comes to an end. Parshat Masei gives an overview of our wanderings from the moment we were freed from Egypt to the time when we stood on the verge of entering the Promised Land.

The parsha emphasizes that G-d not only freed us from Egypt , but also executed judgment on the Egyptian gods. This was a demonstration of G-d’s condemnation of the illegitimacy of “gods” who would countenance and justify endless dehumanizing bondage.

The parsha then talks about the boundaries of the nation and the various tribes. Another section mandates the Levitical cities, home to the members of the tribe of Levi who, unlike other Israelites, will not have a permanent geographical inheritance. The discussion of the Levitical cities leads in turn to a discussion of the cities of refuge, to which the person guilty of involuntary manslaughter could flee.

All of these are serious national concerns, and it would not have been surprising if Bamidbar concluded with matters of such general import; or else in an impassioned flourish of inspiring rhetoric.

So it is surprising that at the very last moment, at the “stirring conclusion," Bamidbar diverts our attention from “macro” issues and focuses instead on a fine, but rather narrow, point of law: how land, normally distributed to male heirs, is to be apportioned when the sole heirs are daughters.

The final disposition of this specific point of law is less important than the general principle running throughout our parsha, indeed throughout the book of Bamidbar, and in fact throughout the Torah as a whole: The Jewish people must bring its full strength to bear on both the big national issues and the small personal ones. Grappling with both the big and the small is an essential part of who we are as Jews. 

The message of the Torah has direct relevance to us today. Obviously, in this unsettled time, we have to address the big issues that affect us as a nation: borders, boycotts, budget talks, and so forth.

These matter to the welfare of our people, and our people matters.  But individual people matter, too.  Whether disenfranchised because of legal technicalities, or because of poverty, or because of health, or because of age, or because of ecological disaster, or because of whatever calamities can arise in this as-yet-imperfect world, we have an obligation to help our brothers and sisters in need.

Our parsha ends as it does as a reminder to us to keep our eyes on the prize: love.

Love for our people.

Love for all our people.

Love for all people. 


Rabbi Robert L. Wolkoff is the spiritual leader of Congregation B’nai Tikvah, 

 North Brunswick , New Jersey


The Jewish Federations of North America Rabbinic Cabinet

Cabinet Chair: Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt
Vice Chair: Rabbi Rabbi Les Bronstein
Vice Chair: Rabbi Fred Klein 
Vice Chair: Rabbi Larry Kotok                                                                                               Vice Chair: Rabbi Steve Lindeman
President: Rabbi Steven E. Foster
Honorary Chair: Rabbi Matthew H. Simon
Director of the Rabbinic Cabinet: Rabbi Gerald Weider


The opinions expressed in Mekor Chaim articles are solely of the author
and do not reflect any official position of Jewish Federations of North America or the Rabbinic Cabinet.

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