This week we read two parashot, Mattos and Masei.
Much of Parasha Mattos is about the neder, or vow, and that once made, it must be kept. The neder is not a promise to do something, but rather is a promise prohibiting oneself from using or enjoying something, or forbid someone else from using his or her property. The commentary in the Artscroll Chumash explains the neder changes the status of the object – what was once permitted to a person is now prohibited.
The second part of Parasha Mattos tells of the battle against the adult Midianites, who had tried to get the Israelites to worship idols. Their idol worship and their sin in trying to lure the Israelites into idol worship were a threat to the goal of making the land of Israel into a place where the Israelites could worship God.
Parasha Mattos also tells how the tribes of Gad and Reuben, and half the tribe of Manasseh, would not take lands across the Jordan River for their homes, but would take lands east of the river, which had good pasture for grazing cattle. Those tribes would build cities for their families and herds of cattle, and then would join the rest of the Israelites in removing the idol worshipping tribes from Canaan.
Parasha Masei talks about the boundaries of the land which will become Israel, and the process of dividing it among families by lot. Masei also gives instructions about cities for the Levites, who served God by helping in the Temple and living throughout the land to teach Torah. Because the Levites had no large area that would belong to them, they were given smaller areas throughout Israel to build cities, together with fields surrounding the cities for fields and vineyards.
Finally, Parasha Masei discusses the cities of refuge, where people who had accidentally killed someone could go and be safe from revenge by the victim’s family.
The discussion of the neder, where an object’s status changes, is an introduction to the rest of Mattos and Masei. God changes the status of the land of Canaan so that it can become the land of Israel. It is no longer to be a place where people worship idols and take justice into their own hands. The land will become a holy place governed by laws based on a moral code – the Torah.
We also have the ability to change the status of the places we inhabit. We can make our homes, schools, and campsites places of holiness governed by a moral code. While our neighbors, schoolmaters and fellow Scouts may not all follow Torah, any of them will react well when you follow the 12 points of the Scout Law.