D’var Torah – Matot Masei

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eryn londonBy Eryn London

This Friday is Rosh Chodesh Av. Tradition teaches that the first of Av is the yahrzeit (anniversary of the death) of Aaron.

The main character trait of Aaron was peace making. In Perkei Avot (1:12), we are taught: “Hillel says: Be a student of Aaron; a lover of peace, a pursuer of peace, one who loves creatures and brings them closer to Torah.”

Aaron was said to do everything in his power to bring peace between fighting parties. When two people disagree with one another, it is often very difficult for each to see the other person’s side, which is what prevents forming a compromise and keeping the peace. Aaron was said to go between both parties, and help them see each other’s side. Through his keen social awareness and ability to see and hold multiple perspectives, he was able to bring about real dialogue, which allowed the two parties to join together once more.

On Shabbat we read both Parshat Matot and Masei. The last two aliyot of Masei, the last two aliyot of the book of Bamidbar, go back to talking about splitting up the land when the Jews will enter into the land of Israel. We learn about an addition, that the Children of Israel must have cities of refuge. And at the very end, we read that the daughters of Tzlofchad married within their tribe and also acquired land.

If a person accidentally kills another person, the bereaved family is allowed to chase after the killer and kill them, unless they find themselves in a city of refuge. If they get to the city of refuge, they can live there safely and can only leave without fear once the Kohen Gadol passes away. At first this might sound strange. Why would we want to create a safe haven for murders, even if they accidentally killed someone? Potentially, the murderers should get some form of punishment. The family who lost someone should have the right to seek justice.

The city of refuge, I think, is a way of compromise and forming peace. It creates a situation that both parties are allowed to find time and space for mourning, anger, and how to go on with life. The time limit is not based on either party, but on something external. So even though the family might never cease to be angry or hurt, the desire to kill this person will vanish. And the person who killed might never forgive themselves for taking a life, but they too will be able find a time that they can be reaccepted into society.

The very end of the Parasha and the book of Bamidbar, we revisit the story of the daughters of Tzlofchad. In Parshat Pinchas we read about 5 sisters who go to Moshe with a complaint and question about the laws of inheritance. They feel like they should also have inheritance after their father died. Also, he should not be punished for not having a portion in the land of Israel because he did not have any sons. Moshe speaks to God and God says that the women should be granted land but only if they marry into their tribe in order for fair division amongst the tribes.

Moshe could have just told the women no and that this is the law and nothing can change. Instead, he did something that not all leaders feel that they can do, and he said he didn’t know and would need to consult God. Moshe was willing to think about what could be done to not make these women feel marginalized and outside the community. With the Parsha ending with that these women married and getting the land, we are able to see that even in difficult situations, if we take the time to think and work it through, we might be able to come to a place of compromise and increase peace in our community.

Rosh Chodesh Av, also starts the time period known as the “9 Days”, the days leading up to Tisha B’Av. Tisha B’Av is known as the saddest day of the Jewish year. It is the day that we mourn and remember the destruction of both temples, as well as many other horrific events in Jewish history.

The Talmud says that the Second Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred. According to the Pele Yoetz (356:1):

Hatred: The Tanna says about hatred in Mesechet Avot: “Hating others takes a person from this world.” It leads to many sins, and brings a person to arguments and evil speech, and causes him to rejoice in the pain of others and to damage, avenge, etc.” It is written that hatred is the most common sin, because every moment one hates, he is violating the commandments of “do not hate your brother in your heart” and “you shall lover your neighbour as yourself.” This is the reason baseless hatred destroyed the Temple. And all hatred is called baseless hatred, because any claim a person has for hating another is futile.”

Hopefully we can learn to not hate including those who have hurt us the most. Hopefully we can learn how to truly listen to other’s needs and do whatever it takes to create a just and fairer society. Hopefully we can learn from Aaron and help with the brining of true peace into the world and with this create a world not of baseless hatred but out of pure love.