Parsha #43: Masa’ei (Stages) 33:1-36:13
Haftarah: Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) 2:4-28; 3:4
B’rit Hadashah: Ya’akov (James) 4:1-12

In this Parsha we learn the laws of Aray Miklat, the cities of refuge. A place designated for anyone who kills a fellow Israelite by accident. The killer has to get to the city of refuge before the deceased’s relatives are able to avenge his death.

With regard to the killer’s release from the city we find a peculiar law. He may only leave the city without fear of reprisals only after the Cohen Gadol’s death at that time. What is the connection between the Cohen Gadol’s death and the killer’s atonement? Why should his release be dependant on the death of the Cohen Gadol?

In order to understand this relationship we must understand how the killer found himself in his predicament.

In the Parsha of Mishpatim (Sh’mot 221:13) we learned that if someone kills anyone unintentionally he would have escape to a city of refuge. Rashi explains that the case we are discussing is one where two men commit murder, one intentionally and one unintentionally. Since there are no witnesses to either murder they are both acquitted.

G-d however does not acquit them. He paints the following scenario: One day the man who had killed unintentionally climbs up a ladder, and the man who had killed intentionally is at the foot of the ladder. The man on the top of the ladder falls and kills the one below, but this time, in front of witnesses. Now the man who had originally murdered with premeditation meets with his punishment-death, and the one who had killed by accident is now forced to run to a city of refuge.

The end result is that for every person that goes to an Ir Miklat, two people are killed. This is a reflection of the poor spiritual state in which the nation finds itself. The abundant number of murders is a direct result of failing to follow G-d’s path, the Torah.

Now we are in a better position to understand why the atonement of the unintentional killer comes with the death of the Cohen Gadol. It is because the Torah holds the leaders of the nation responsible for the spiritual well being of the nation. Not only on a theoretical scale but even on an individual scale.

The perception here is that the Cohen Gadol was not spiritual enough or did not work hard enough to create the spiritual life that B’nai Yisrael needed to overcome their negative impulses. Therefore, a murder even an unintentional killing is the Cohen Gadol’s responsibility.

B’rit Chadasha:

Because I believe that James 1:1-12 and James 4:1-12 shed light upon each other I have taken the liberty to comment on both even though the former is not a part of this week’s Parsha.

James 1:1-12

James (Ya’akov) was not only the leader to the Messianic Congregation in Jerusalem (Matthew 13:55; Acts 12:17); he was also the half-brother and a slave of the Lord Yahshua HaMashiach. In verse one we see James referring to the “Twelve Tribes.” I want you to understand that this is not a metaphor for Christians as some Christian commentators and denominations claim. James is addressing fellow Israelites and Jewish believers in their synagogues and throughout the Diaspora, which lay outside Israel. He is addressing the lost tribes.

In vv. 2-4 James addresses the subject of “testing.” Most of us do not regard “testing” as a source of joy as does James. Why, his attitude as opposed to most of ours? He reveals that the testing of your trust produces perseverance. Sha’ul arrives at the same conclusion in Romans 5:2-5. What should this mean to us? How does adversity, tests, produce perseverance? Simply, this way! When we come through trails and tests having put our trust in YHVH Elohim to deliver us we become more confident in Him. We begin to rely less on ourselves, and more upon Him who is the master of our destiny. If we are to believe that YHVH can save us how can we not believe that He can deliver us from adversity? AND… if He doesn’t, the same attribute of trust produces perseverance so that we can readily accept what has befallen us, for we know eventually we will receive all of His promises. This is a process that leads to complete trust, which leads to salvation.

In verse 5 it reads in the KJV:
5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of YHVH, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

This is a reference to Proverbs 5: 3-6 which reads:
3 Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding;
4 If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures;
5 Then shalt thou understand the fear of YHVH, and find the knowledge of Elohim.
6 For YHVH giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding.

Verses 6-8 reads:
6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
7 For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of YHVH.
8 A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.

Sha’ul also speaks of this in Romans 7:23. Since many believe that Sha’ul and Ya’akov contradict each other let’s see how they compare. It reads.

23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin, which is in my members.

Already, I can see those indoctrinated by antinomians that this reference to the “captivity to the law of sin” as Sha’ul referring to the invalidity of YHVH’s Torah. Read it again and then consult your Strong’s Concordance. There are three references to “law” in verse 23:
(1) law in my members,
(2) law of my mind, and
(3) captivity to the law of sin. Greek has only one word for “law” and that is: nomos, nom’-os.

In Strong’s we see there are four definitions given for this Greek word “nomos”
(1) to parcel out, espec. food or grazing to animals);
(2) law (through the idea of prescriptive usage),
(3) gen. (regulation), spec. (of Moses [includ. the volume]; also of the Gospel), or
(4) fig. (a principle):–law.

Now let us take the second one: Prescriptive: According to Webster’s, it means:
1. Something that prescribes; giving directions or injunctions.
2. Based on or arising from long-standing usage or custom.

Now this same word Nomos could be used to describe YHVH’s Torah by virtue of the first definition, or Oral Torah, the second definition, which entails the interpretations and traditions of men. So, Sha’ul when using the only Greek word available to him when describing the “Traditions of Men” or Oral Torah would not be referring to YHVH’s Torah. On the other hand since this is the only Greek word describing YHVH’s Torah as well how would we know to which he is referring?

First, by the subject, then by the context of the verse, and by knowing Judaism as practiced then, and by the linguistic anomalies, and lastly by knowing the acculturated forms of idiomatic expressions of the Hebrew that these Greek forms try to express. Definition number 3 refers to YHVH’s general regulations specifically of Moshe including the volume, which refers to Torah and The Gospel or NT, which also was given as Torah (Hebrew 8:6).

Another problem then asserts itself because Traditional Judaism claims that the Oral Torah was given by YHVH to Moshe to guide us in our observance. This would be all right if it were not that the Oral Torah sometimes contradicts YHVH’s Torah. The last definition however seems more appropriate for this passage and it doesn’t contradict Scripture. That is the word-translated law here would better have served Sha’ul’s meaning if it had been translated “principle.”

Read the same passage with “principle” taken from Strong’s translation of this word, replacing “law.”

23 But I see another “principle” in my members, warring against the “principle” of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the “principle” of sin which is in my members.

A principle is defined within this context as:

1. A personal or specific basis of conduct or management: to adhere to one’s principles.
2. A guiding sense of the requirements and obligations of right conduct:

With that further definition in mind how may this translation read? First, we have to remember James subject is “trust” and its results, but he contrasts perfect trust against imperfect trust, which results from a “doubled minded man” that is unstable in all his ways. I might add that this phrase suggests to me a person who only sees YHVH’s Torah as applicable if it agrees with his own concept of morality, eating habits, etc., et al. Back to the Parsha! We need to obey even if we don’t know why. Now apply this understanding to Paul’s verse and using perfectly acceptable rules of translation see how it reads:

24 But I see another “contrary system or rule of conduct” in my members, warring against the “guiding sense of the requirements and obligations of conduct [Torah]” of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the “principle” of sin which is this contrary system or rule of conduct contrary to YHVH’s Torah, which is in my members.

I can only say what Sha’ul encouraged you to do in 2 Tim. 2:15 Study to show thyself approved unto YHVH, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

In verses 9-11 James is addressing the stations of the poor and the rich.

9 Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted:
10 But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away.
11 For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.

James is saying that we all shall come to the limits of our days in the same way, and we should not be jealous of those that have earthly riches.

1 Cor. 7: 22 gives us some insight into this passage:

“For he that is called in Adonai, being a servant, is YHVH’s freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is the Messiah’s servant.

Our riches are stored up in Yahshua and in Him we are freemen, yet we are His servant’s. We shall be co-rulers with Him, yet He is Adonai. We may see evil men with riches beyond compare while we are poor and wanting, yet we are far richer than any man of material wealth. In the proper time we will receive the rewards set aside for us and we should not be downcast because others enjoy more material wealth than we for truly they may be destitute of true wealth altogether.

Verse 12 speaks for itself:

12 Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.

James 4: 1-12

James Here reiterates what he said in 1:6. Our desires battle within us as “double-minded” people.

Have some of you wondered why your prayers aren’t answered? There are many reasons but James addresses this question in verse 3 where he points out that we pray with the wrong motive.

Have you ever earnestly listened to public prayer? It seems like many of us regard YHVH Elohim as some sort of Santa Claus. Part of the reason is that our religious institutions and leaders influenced by secular doctrines of excessive individualism, greed and materialism purports to ascribe to YHVH Elohim His approval of selfish prayer. They use verses like Luke 11: 10. Just “ask”, and it will be given to you. After all, He is a loving Father who denies His children nothing. You want a bigger house, a new car, fancy clothes, just pray, and it will be delivered to you, just like a UPS delivery. Besides making prayer a magic amulet, misusing Scripture, and raising false hopes this teaching ignores the fact that a truly loving Father does not give His children whatever they ask for because Fathers should know better than their children what they actually need. You wouldn’t give a gun to a five year old because he wanted one like Hop-a-long Cassidy carries would you? James refutes this selfish philosophy masquerading as biblical teaching in this verse.

In verse 4 James refers to the “double-minded” as being an adulterer. Spiritually, an adulterer is unfaithful to YHVH Elohim. We can’t serve mammon (materialism/world) and YHVH too. We are friendly to one and make an enemy of the other.

Then in verse six he asks, “Do you suppose the Tanakh speaks in vain when it says that there is a spirit in us which longs to envy? The Tanakh speaks directly of that spirit, yetzer ra in Genesis 6:5.

Genesis 6:5
And G-d saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

YHVH in His grace gave us another spirit with which to overcome the spirit of yetzer ra. Through YHVH’s Ruach HaKodesh we have the means to exercise right choices and overcome hasatan’s spirit. In 1 John 4:4 we read:

Ye are of YHVH, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.

In verse 7-8 James tells us how to pray. He counsels us to take a stand against the Adversary, who “stalks about like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8-9). We are told if we use Scriptures properly (2 Tim. 2:15, Matthew 4:1-11), and employ the other means of spiritual warfare that are available ( 2Cor. 10:3-5, Ephesians 6:10-18) he (hasatan) will flee from us. If you look at Genesis 4:7 you will see that James verses 5-6 carry the same message.

In verse 8 James calls us to come close to YHVH and YHVH will come close to us, as in Zechariah 1:3 where we are told by YHVH of Hosts (Tzvaot) to “Turn to me and I will turn to you.” The response to the initiative of reconciliation is ours, but elsewhere in Scripture it places the initiative into YHVH’s hand, as in Lamentations 5:21, Ephesians 2:4-10. In John 3:16 both sides are expressed equally: “YHVH …gave…so that everyone who trusts; similarly in Hebrews 10:20, 22 (He (Yahshua) inaugurated it…Therefore, let us approach…) and in Romans 3:22 (“a righteousness that comes from YHVH …to all who continue trusting”). So we see there are times when we must initiate, times when YHVH initiates, and when we must respond with an action base upon YHVH’s initiative.

James warns us to “clean our hearts” and in Isaiah 1:15-16, Isaiah also tells us we must “clean our hands…purify our hearts.” Let me read.

Isaiah 1:15
And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.

And in Isaiah 1:16
Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;

Now James does not leave us wondering. He explains what purifying your hearts in Verses 9-10 means. Read it for yourselves, but the bottom line is this: we are to fear YHVH and stand before Him humbly, observing His Torah. If we are to have our prayers answered we must not ask amiss or selfishly.

This reminds me of something I’ve been observing lately on religious bumper stickers. It is the acronym usually beneath a “cross.” The letters, WWJD?, written in bold red letters, which stand for “What would Jesus Do?” I see these stickers on cars obviously owned by Christians, and I think to myself, if they want to know what Yahshua would do they should read Torah. They should go to the synagogue on Sabbath, withdraw from Hellenistic worship practices, quit sitting under antinomian teachers, and yes, even quit eating pork. BECAUSE that is what “Jesus” did and would do.

Verse 11-12 sums it up. We are not to judge Torah for if we do; we are not a doer of Torah. We are not to decide which of Torah is relevant, and which is not, because all Torah given to us by our Judge and Creator is given for our instructions, and well-being.

Halftarah: Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) 2:4-28; 3:4

This is the second of the three “prophecies of destruction,” read during the Three Weeks, that period of time between the Fast Days of the Seventeenth of Tammuz and The ninth of Av.

Our Halftarah keeps to the theme of the Three Weeks by showing us Jeremiah rebuking the nation. He chastises them for making a mockery of the Land and the Torah. People are ignorant of Torah, and false prophets spread their lies throughout the Land.

Things to think about:
1. Why was G-d so adamant about destroying Midyan (31:2)? What is the reason Moshe gives (31:3)? What does this show us about the relationship between G-d and His nation?

The booty from the war with Midyan was to be divided between the nation and the warriors. Why should those who didn’t fight get a portion?
The tribes of Reuven and Gad told Moshe that they would build pens for their cattle and cities for their children. Moshe told them to build cities for their children and then pens for their cattle. What does this order show us about the difference in values?
Sages Wisdom:

“Take revenge for B’nai Yisrael against Midyan…(31:2)

Moshe receives a commandment from HaShem to avenge B’nai Yisrael. However, instead of leading the battle himself, he sends Pinchas. Why didn’t he go himself?

Moshe had lived in Midyan, so he felt a certain gratitude towards them. It would have been difficult for him to lead the army against the nation who had harbored him. However, since Pinchas had killed the Midyanite woman who had sinned with Zimri, Moshe felt he would be the right one to carry out YHVH’s command.

Sometimes even a leader is not the best equipped for the job. A leader endowed with wisdom will always place the right person for the job in that position.

“A band of sinning people.” (32:14)

Our sages tell us that YHVH got very angry with Moshe for referring to B’nai Yisrael in such a negative manner. As a result, Moshe was eventually punished, and one of his descendents, Yonatan ben Gershon, went on to worship idols.

We can see from this that we must be very careful with our words even if what we say is valid.


Vi’lo nifkad me’menoo ish, “…and not one man was missing.” (31:49)

After the war with Midyan B’nai Yisrael found that not one man of their number had fallen in battle. This was a sign that none of the fighters had sinned during the battle by losing faith with G-d. The numeric value of this phrase is 718. The numeric of the word La’avairot, which means “for sins”, is 718. Therefore none of the fighters had fallen for their sins.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Davis