Shabbat Parashat Mattot + Mas’ey Shabbat Mevarekhim HaChodesh Reality Check

Dear Friends,

If we have ever had issues with our Torah, it was probably with our double Torah portion of Mattot-Mas’ey.

What difficult passages are those?

Let’s start with the verses that describe the power of a husband to annul the vows of his wife. If people’s words are meant to be taken seriously, why should a husband be empowered to nullify the vows of his wife? Aren’t her words as sacred as his?

Or, if that example does not seem so difficult, how about the order by Moses to wipe out the Midianites?

One may ask: Why continue to read parts of the Torah that contain really difficult passages?

Some would have us skip these parts of the Torah in our weekly Torah readings because of the discomfort these passages create. Some abandon Torah altogether because our Torah contains difficult passages.

But, our tradition – a tradition that teaches us love, kindness, and the humanity of each and every human being – refuses to have us skip these passages or ignore them! Why?

I will admit that I too am sometimes tempted to ignore the difficult passages of Torah. However, the light of Torah is in its power to be an amazing reality check!

The difficult passages of Torah have the power to get us thinking, and acting, to make this world a better place – a place of healing, a place of love, a place of wholeness.

How can we address the difficulties of the world without reading about them? How can we take steps to make the world a better place without speaking about the real situations that surround us? How can we hope to have a sense of wholeness if we choose to simply skip over or ignore the difficulties of Torah and of real life?

As individuals and as a community, we still face some of these same difficulties. We still live in a world of inequality, of hatred, of violence, and of benign neglect of the needs of those around us. And we are innundated 24/7 by news of the difficulties which surround us, often, and very understandably, to the point of “turning off the news.” “Turning off the news” is the equivalent of skipping the difficult passages of Torah or of simply abandoning Torah altogether.

Torah teaches us that we all deserve to take a break from the news and from the difficulties of the world on a regular basis every single week by observing Shabbat – a day of rest. However, we are supposed to use that time of rest to refuel our souls so that we may return to the real world and address the real world difficulties that are around us.

We are taught not to skip over the problems in Torah, and not to skip over the problems in the world. We are taught not to stop reading Torah in its entirety, and not to turn our backs and pretend that everything is as it should be.

Our Sages taught us that the goal of Torah is not to teach us to “do as our ancestors did” but rather to inspire us to envision a better world – a world of equal rights and of equal opportunities of all. But, without reading and noting the difficult passages, without giving ourselves a chance to address the difficulties in a thoughtful and constructive way, we are doomed to stay mired in the same difficult situations.

Let’s pray for some respite on Shabbat and for renewed energy for the week ahead.

This Shabbat we announce the coming new Jewish month of Av. Rosh Chodesh Av will be on Tuesday night and Wednesday of this coming week. May it be a month of comfort, of healing, and of health.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Gilah Dror