Tag Archives: kashering

Commentary for Matot-Ma’asei

20 Jul

In this week’s parshah we come to the final stage of the war between the Israelites and the Midianites that has been going on for the past ten chapters. First the Midianites, along with the Moabites, hired Bilaam to curse the Israelites. Later the Midianites tried to destroy the Jewish culture by luring the Israelites away from God by sending people into the Israelite camp to introduce the Israelites to their idols (and many, many, Israelites did become idolaters). Now, having seen that the Midianites just won’t leave them alone, it is time for the Israelites to go on the offensive. The Midianites have tried every other possible tactic to destroy their way of life, so the Israelites resort to violence to prevent a physical attack that seems inevitable.


While the fighting might be inevitable, it is not something the Israelites are keen to do. Throughout their trek, the Israelites have done whatever they reasonably could to avoid violent confrontation with other nations. But this battle seems inevitable, so if they must fight, then they will. The Israelites send a relatively small force of just 12,000 warriors, and the campaign goes extremely well. The Israelites defeat the entire Midianite army and take their possessions as spoils of war.


The passage discussing the war concludes with a reminder that the surviving Israelite warriors must purify themselves and their clothes before reentering the camp because they have become impure by touching a corpse. This would be done using the procedure described in chapter nineteen of Numbers, which includes spending a week outside of the Israelite camp.


That passage is one of only two in the entire Torah to begin with the phrase “This is the decree of the Torah.” The second such passage is the epilogue to the war narrative, which discusses what to do with the spoils of war. In this passage we learn that the utensil captured from the Midianites should be assumed to be impure and must be purified before they can be used. These vessels did not want to become impure. The impurity was forced upon them through circumstance. They happened to be owned by non-Jews who used them to cook and serve non-kosher food, so they must be purified before they can be use to cook and serve kosher food.   Similarly, the Israelite soldiers did not want to become impure. They did not want to go war at all. But circumstances necessitated that they do so, and so they did, causing them to become impure and thus need to be repurified. Sometimes life throws situations at us that are against our will out of our control and we find ourselves having to deal with consequences we don’t like and never asked for. The Torah teaches us that in order to be able to return to “real life” inside the camp, we must first accept the consequences of the situations we have found ourselves in and adapt to them.


Commentary for Mattot

21 Jul

In this week’s parshah the Children of Israel go to war with the Midianites. Moses instructed each tribe to choose only one thousand men to send into battle. Although this put the Israelites at a major disadvantage against the much larger Midianite force, the Israelites had God on their side, and not only did they win the battle, but as they later report to Moses, they did not suffer even a single casualty (Num. 31:49).

The Israelite forces return victorious, bringing with them all manner of spoils of war. Moses, Elazar the priest, and the elders rush out of the camp to welcome them home, but things do not go smoothly. Moses immediately becomes very angry with them for disobeying his orders by bringing adult female captives. He reminds them that it was Midianite women who came into the Israelite camp and induced the Israelites to start worshipping the idol Baal-peor, which was the most successful of a number of Midianite attempts to reek spiritual havoc within the Israelite camp, which was the very reason for the start of the war that these very soldiers had just gone off to fight!   Moses makes it clear to them that no adult Midianite woman can be allowed to enter the Israelite camp.

Aside from human captives, the Israelite army has brought many other spoils with them, including livestock, jewelry, cloths, and cooking utensils. About these utensils Elazar tells the people that they will need to kasher them before using them because they have been used for unkosher food. He tells them that “any article which can withstand fire- these you shall pass through fire and they shall be pure, except that they must be purified with water of lustration (a mikveh, according to the Gemara); and anything that cannot withstand fire you must pass through water (Num 31:23).” In order to remove an impurity, you must put in at least an equal degree of work to that which went in to creating the impurity. This same concept can be applied to the idea of sin. The first step to repentance is to show true remorse for the sin committed.

Rashi reads 31:23 as saying that the passing through fire or water is an initial phase, and that everything must be purified in a mikveh afterwards. A mikveh is a place where people go to dedicate and rededicate themselves to God. When we seek to rededicate ourselves to a life of holiness after sinning, it is not enough to simply regret our sins. We must take steps to help ourselves avoid making the same mistakes in the future. God protected the Israelites in their war with Midian, but the Israelites were also responsible for protecting themselves and ensuring that they lived holy lives.