Matot/Mas’ei 5783 – Hameirah
In today’s world of constant creation, AI, and innovation, it’s almost impossible to create something that is inherently “new.” Ed Sheeran was recently in the news for a copyright infringement case, where Marvin Gaye’s estate claimed that he copied Gaye’s song “Let’s Get it On” in his hit, “Thinking Out Loud.” The court found Sheeran not guilty, stating that the chord structure of both songs was simply “common building blocks.” So how do we find and experience newness in the world when so many things feel routine, mundane, and the same?
I feel like this question is also constantly asked of Torah learning. Why study and read the same stories over and over and over again? What’s the point? Rashi quotes a midrash that states,
שֶׁיִּהְיוּ דִּבְרֵי תּוֹרָה חֲדָשִׁים עָלֶיךָ כְּאִלּוּ הַיּוֹם נִתְּנוּ
The words of the Torah shall be new to you, as if they were given just today.
This week we conclude the book of Bamidbar with a double portion: Matot and Mas’ei. As the people of Israel are about to enter the land of Israel, the book ends with Moses reflecting on some recent events and saying,
“וַיְצַו מֹשֶׁה אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל עַל פִּי ה’ לֵאמֹר כֵּן מַטֵּה בְנֵי יוֹסֵף דֹּבְרִים (בַּמִּדְבָּר לו:ה)”
“So Moses, at God’s bidding, instructed the Israelites saying, ‘The plea of the Josephite tribe is just’ (Bamidbar 36:5).”
The plea he is talking about here is a concern the Josephites had about the inheritance of Tzlophechad’s daughters (who last week were told they would be the first female inheritors of their father’s property in the Bible!) In a fascinating commentary, the Mei Hashiloach (Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izbitza 1801-1854) claims that this particular story is actually the end of the Torah. Since Deuteronomy is really just a repetition of everything that came before (a retelling by Moses of the story), the Torah actually ends with the book of Bamidbar! So why end with this very specific story about inheritance? He writes,
General principles and laws in the Torah are always needed, but it is necessary for a person to understand and seek out what is God’s will in the matters of this particular moment as well, in the times we live in now that are always changing.
And that is why this particular case, specific to a particular moment, is what concludes the entire Torah. In order to show us that throughout the entire Torah there are hints and specific details that are applicable in any time, and to show us that all of the words of the Torah are advice to give insight to humans to understand what the will of God is now, in this particular moment. And so we need to investigate Torah to understand these insights. And that is why the Torah concludes with this particular case, to show us that the Torah is not bound to a particular time, but can guide us in all times.
The Torah ends in the particular so that we remember that the Torah matters and can help guide us if we read it into our lives today. Every time we look again at these words and stories, we see ourselves in them in fascinating and different ways. That’s the whole point!
This evergreen-ness is a theme of so much of the liturgy we say every day. Right after the Barchu we sing, “Uv’tuvo mechadesh b’chol yom tamid ma’aseh b’reishit,” “In God’s goodness, every day, creation is made new again.” As we return time and time again to these stories and to our tradition, the ways in which we have changed and grown change the ways in which we read and understand these stories. This is an important and potentially life-changing opportunity every single time we engage with our tradition and our faith.
How can you find a way to see the new in the world, in Judaism, and in Shabbat this week?