Tag Archives: Matos

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.