The Parashah for this week is a “double reading.”
Numbers 30. Vows and oaths to the LORD are extremely serious transactions in God’s eyes; such words, coming out of the mouth of a person and binding his or her very soul, must be taken seriously and honoured by all humankind who are made in God’s own image (vss. 2, 6). In Ancient Israel, vows and oaths were binding absolutely on all males (30:2). Yet within the authority structure God had set up, there were certain circumstances in which the positioning of a human father or husband could (as with the divine Father/Husband of which they are a reflection) allow release of a special grace to cover the guilt of a young daughter living at home, or of a wife (the protection and oversight of both for which God held the father or husband ultimately responsible). Thus, if a father, on the day he heard of a vow his daughter had made deemed it unwise, he could overrule her vow and the LORD would forgive her (30:5). Similarly, on the day a husband became aware of a vow made by his wife, he might, if he believed it unwise, choose to “overrule” (Hebrew verb: lehani) and “make void” (Hebrew verb: lehaphir) the vow which she had made, “and what she uttered with her lips, by which she bound her soul, and the LORD will forgive her.”
[It is interesting that both of these Hebrew verbs are used in Psalm 33:10, “The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing (Hebrew: lehaphir); He makes the plans of the peoples of no effect”(Hebrew: lehani). Here also, faulty counsel is cancelled out by a greater authority in an ultimate mercy.]
*Numbers 30:15. “But if he does make them void after he has heard them, then he shall bear her iniquity”. In a holy sanctuary built and maintained by fallen man, those of the House of Levi were called to “bear the iniquity” of that sanctuary. (Numbers 18:1, 23), while Aaron and his descendants would “bear the iniquity” of his priesthood. There was a special grace given to those in these positions—but if the rest of the Israelites came near to the tabernacle of meeting, they would “bear their sin and die.” Likewise, it appears here that a measure of this same grace was given to a man in his role as “priest” or “Levite” over his home. Ultimately, just as one goat was slain for sin on the Day of Atonement, but another was necessary to be taken into the wilderness to “bear on itself all their iniquities…” (Leviticus 16:22), so would come Another who not only would offer Himself up to die as a sacrifice for sin—but as the Lamb of God, also would bear away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
*Numbers 31:1-2. “And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Take vengeance on the Midianites for the children of Israel. Afterward you shall be gathered to your people.”
It is important in reading the grim even shocking events of the first half of this chapter, to realize Who had issued the order. In Psalm 94:1 the LORD (YHVH) is twice called El-Nekamot—literally, “God of all Vengeance”. Isaiah 61:2 speaks of the Spirit’s anointing One to proclaim “the day of the vengeance of our God” (as well as to “comfort all who mourn”). II Thessalonians 1:8 prophecies a Day when Yeshua will be revealed from Heaven with mighty angels “in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord, Yeshua the Messiah.” Romans 12:17-20 cautions against believers taking their own revenge for perceived offenses, and quotes Deuteronomy 32:35, “‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the YHVH”. Hebrews 10:30 also quotes this same verse from the Torah as relevant to those who “know Him” today. Vengeance is always His and not ours. Yet Psalm 149:7 makes clear that “Saints” will on occasion be used to “execute [His] vengeance on the nations.”
It is obviously this, the righteous vengeance of God, which is being released through His people in Numbers 31. “It is appointed for [all] men to die once…” (Hebrews 9:27). The time was at hand for these Midianites, including the women who through seduction had “caused the children of Israel to trespass against the LORD” (Numbers 31:1). The young women who had not had intimate relations with men were allowed to be taken alive as servants.
II. Massei—“Journeys of…”
“Now at the end of the long chain of Wilderness stories that began in Exodus, as the Israelites are poised to cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, we get a grand recapitulation of the whole narrative in the form of an itinerary of all the “way stations” in the Wilderness march” (Alter, Robert: The Five Books of Moses, W.W.Norton & Co: New York, London, 2004 (p. 852, n 1).
*Numbers 33:1. “These are the journeys of the children of Israel, who went out of the land of Egypt by their armies under the hand of Moses and Aaron.” (Emphases ours)
As noted when this ‘going forth’ from Egypt was first recorded (Exodus 12:41, 51; 13:18), although the Children of Israel may not yet have been fully aware that they were an “army” (with each member assigned his/her positioning in its arraying), YHVH Tz’vaot, Elohei Ma’arkhot Yisrael (“Yehovah of Armies, God of the Arraying of Israel”—I Samuel 17:45) was well aware! When people are brought out of the slave-house of sin into the Kingdom of Heaven, they will soon discover that they are in a war—but also that they each have a place especially reserved in the army of the Captain of the Hosts of the LORD!
*Numbers 33:2. “And Moses wrote down their departure points for their journeying by the word of the LORD, and these are their journeying by their departure points” (Robert Alter, trans).
“Departure points” (Hebrew: motz’a) is also sometimes translated into English as “starting points” or “places of origin”. All have validity, albeit resulting in slightly different perspectives. In fact, this word is related to that used of God in the traditional Hebrew blessing over meals, “Ha’motzi lechem min haAretz”—“Who brings forth bread from the earth”. So the passage might even be interpreted to read, “Moses wrote down those places from which they were brought forth for their journey”. An old Jewish proverb goes something like this, “You can’t know where you’re going ‘til you know where you came from.” It was important that the Hebrews keep a record of these starting/departure points from which, in the timings of the LORD, they had been continually drawn forth—back into the path of their journeying (Numbers 9:18).
*Numbers 36:7. “And an estate of the Israelites shall not turn round from tribe to tribe, but the Israelites shall cling each man to the estate of the tribe of his fathers” (Robert Alter, trans.).
“Cling” comes from the same Hebrew word used in Genesis 2:24 regarding a man and his wife. It was this charge as related to inherited land which likely fueled Naboth’s response to Ahab in I Kings 21:3, “YHVH Forbid! That I should give the inheritance of my fathers to you!”.
It is important to pray for Israelis returning to the Land of their Fathers—that they will receive from the Lord a fierce, strong zeal after that land, a holy jealousy in valuing this inheritance passed down from the Fathers, who received it as an eternal Covenant (Psalm 105:8-11) from the God who chose them and met with them there!
*Following Numbers 36:13: It is traditional to chant the following after coming to the end of one of the Five Books of Moses:
KhaZAK! KhaZAK! V’Nit’khaZEK!
“Be Strong! Be Strong! And we Shall Become Stronger!!
(“Haftarah of Affliction/Admonition 2″)
Jeremiah 2:4-28; 3:4; 4:1-2
During the three-week period “between the straits” (the 17th of Tammuz through the 9th of Av) the Readings from the Prophets are special “Haftarot of Affliction/Admonition,” calling Israel to sober contemplation of her sin and her deserving of severe judgment—and of the Love of her God still drawing her to repent and return to Him.
*Jeremiah 2:13. “For my people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the Source of living water, and they have hewed themselves cisterns—broken cisterns that can hold no water.”
*Jeremiah 3:4. [Read in Ashkenazy Synagogues]: “Will you not from this time cry to Me, ‘My Father, You are the guide of my youth?’”
*Jeremiah 4:1-2 [Read in Sephardic Jewish Synagogues]: “ ‘If you will return, O Israel,’ declares the LORD, ‘then you should return to me. And if you will put away your detested things from My presence, and will not waver, and you will swear ‘As the LORD lives’ in truth, in justice and in righteousness; then the nations will bless themselves in Him, and in Him they will glory.”
It has always been the divine plan that as Israel comes into a right relationship with her God repercussions will be felt throughout the world—the nations will come into a new revelation of His Glory, and “bless themselves in Him!”
– Your Friends in Jerusalem