This week in Torah we find ourselves at the very end of the book of Numbers. These endings are momentous, and we mark them in the public recitation of the parsha by reciting the words, “chazak, chazak, ve-nit’chazek,” “be strong, be strong, and we will be strengthened.” The ending of the book of Numbers is particularly exciting within the larger narrative, as for the past many parshiot the Israelites have stood poised on the edge of the Promised Land, preparing to enter. This parsha is also one of seven double-portions that is either read as two separate portions, or individually, depending upon the number of Shabbatot in the year, to ensure the reading of the entire Torah.
As one can imagine, this double portion is full of last minute details to be accounted for before entering into the land. Mattot addresses vows and vengeance; supplementing earlier laws about vows, with specific attention paid to those of women. The narrative then moves to details of how to deal with the Midianite survivors of the recent Israelite/Midianite war, and closes with a continuation of the conversation about apportioning land to the Israelite tribes. Ma’asei describes the journey’s end, with a recounting of the journey itself, and a farewell to Aaron – Moses’ brother and first High Priest of the Israelites. As the Israelites turn their attention to securing the land, the text concerns itself with the establishment of boundaries between and amongst the Israelites, and what to do with those who break certain of those boundaries.
Rabbi Callie Schulman