Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah# 43: Masa’ei (Stages): B’midbar (Numbers 33:1-36:13)
Haftarah: Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) 2:4-28; 4:1-2
B’rit Chadashah: Ya’akov (James) 4:1-12
This parashah describes the stages of the journey from Egypt to the edge of the Land; a “recap” if you will, lest the people forget their sins, and the kindnesses of the L-rd including the miracles of which we are told. G-d orders Moshe to recount the stages knowing how quickly humans tend to forget the “good” experiences and recall the “bad”. This is interesting because the “bad” experiences were brought on by their disobedience to G-d as “teaching tools” or “learning opportunities” as they are called today. Let us take a closer look at how Adonai ordered Moshe to orchestrate the taking of the land that has yet to be fully occupied by the Israelites. Keep in mind that the context of “Israel” in this narrative refers to biological Jews. Yet, it is completely applicable to those who consider themselves true believers. Why? Because the Jews and we are supposed to set the example for right living and worshipping the One true G-d; the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The final habitation of Israel (the Land) will include all true believers (completed Israelites). There is much confusion and misunderstanding about who Israelites are as the same term is used for biological Jews and those who become partakers of the covenants of Israel. This misunderstanding and mistranslation present a major stumbling block for those seeking the truth of G-d’s Torah. We must read and seek understanding of the whole of G-d’s Torah that makes clear which “group” of Israelites to which the Bible is referring depending on the context of the passage.
Each place recorded has a unique significance to the spiritual growth of the Israelites. For example, Num. 33:3 describes how proud the Israelites were when they left Egypt in view of all the Egyptians burying every firstborn. This description of pride is somewhat bothersome. There is no mention that the Israelites felt any compassion for those Egyptians who may have been innocent bystanders caught in the “cross-fire” between G-d and Pharaoh. Was there no sense of sadness among the Israelites as G-d lead them out of Egypt?
The first stop was Sukkot (booth). This represents G-d’s provision and is an annually mandated holy convocation (Lev. 23:33). This designated time of year represents G-d’s provision for the people as they wandered through the desert. It also represents G-d’s provision of the Messiah Yahshua who was born during this time of year (Sep-Oct), not Christmas! The next stop is Etam which translates as “their bird, or their covering.” These few illustrations help us to understand the importance of recalling all the places to the people during the wandering years. The narrative reminds them of their sinful behaviors at each place in direct contradiction to the names of the places indicating G-d’s presence and provision throughout the journey. This is a lesson for us that in the midst of our “storms” G-d is with us (Emanuel). It is we who must adjust our behaviors and attitudes and draw close to Him so He will draw close to us. James 4:8-10 reads “Draw close to God, and God will draw close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, you hypocrites. 9 Let there be tears for the wrong things you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. 10 When you bow down before the Lord and admit your dependence on him, he will lift you up and give you honor.” It would be most beneficial to our study of G-d’s Torah to look up each name of the places at which the Israelites camped and what occurred at each place to understand the significance of the narrative. If there are no research books in your home much of this information can be found at Wikipedia or by simply Google search. For example, if you type in the search bar “meaning of “Etam” in Hebrew” you will find several references with the answer. Similarly, if you truly and humbly examine the trials in your life, you will most likely be able to identify perhaps a character flaw that could only be corrected by going through that particular trial. Of course, we are not always given that insight by HaShem, but sometimes we are and would do well to store it in our mental hard drive for future reference!
The last stop before entering the land is in the plains of Mo’av by the garden, across from Jericho. This should not be surprising. Mo’av translates as “seed of the father.” Recall that the Moabites were the descendants of Lot by one of his daughters. More importantly Ruth who was the great-grandmother of Yahshua was a Moabite princess who converted to the faith of the Israelites. The Israelites are truly the seed of their Father as G-d’s people. We would miss this important point if we did not research the Hebrew meaning of Mo’av. The Hebrew provides such a treasury of information for our spiritual growth if we will only search it out through prayerful, humble study.
Adonai then speaks to Moshe and commands him to tell the people that before they can occupy the land, they must expel all the people living there, their stone figures, metal statues, and all the high places. This command illustrates the fact that salvation is not free. There is always a price. In the case of our salvation, Yahshua paves the way with His sacrifice, but it is our responsibility to toe-the-line once we’ve crossed the sea into a new chapter. The people could not “think” the inhabitants away. They had to ACT and physically move the inhabitants out with everything associated with their pagan ways. G-d warns them and us that is we don’t drive the inhabitants out (sinful ways) those we allow to remain will be “like thorns in your eyes and stings in your sides- they will harass you in the land where you are living. And in this event, I will do to you what I intended to do to them” (Num. 33:55-56). We must leave our “idols” of every type and context behind once we repent and choose to serve G-d. Why was it necessary to drive the Canaanites out of the land? They were cut off to prevent Israel and the rest of the world from being corrupted (Deut. 20:16-18). When a people start to burn their children in honour of their gods (Lev. 18:21), practice sodomy, bestiality, and all sorts of loathsome vice (Lev. 18:23, 24, 20:3), the land itself begins to “vomit” them out as the body heaves under the load of internal poisons (Lev. 18:25, 27-30). Thus, “objection to the fate of these nations … is really an objection to the highest manifestation of the grace of God. This command to cut off the Canaanites symbolizes the way we must repent and teshuva (turn from our old ways) and not cling to behaviours not consistent with Torah. We cannot walk the fence between the old life and a Torah observant one for a lukewarm life makes G-d “sick.” Revelation 3:15-16 reads: 15”I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.
The land is to be divided by lots. Anyone who says it is not Biblical to participate in raffles, play Dreidel, or play the lottery need take note that drawing for land by lots was a command of G-d to Moshe. More land was given to the larger families and less to the smaller ones. There was no arguing over “equitable distribution” as we see today in so many contexts. The borders of the land are obviously larger than the current state of Israel. Gambling or drawing by lots must be considered in the context in which it is being done. Careful not to judge!
The nation of Israel will not occupy the entire land of the inheritance described in this parashah until G-d’s plan comes to fruition. To maintain order, G-d designates leaders of each tribe to take possession of the land and divide the inheritance according to His instructions.
Although the Levites were not a tribe, G-d provided for them by ordering the people of Israel to give the Levites cities from each of their inherited land to live in and some of the open land surrounding the cities. These cities serve as places of refuge to which a person who kills someone by mistake can flee. This was necessary because innocent blood was shed, and atonement could not be made until the cohen hagadol who was anointed with the oily oil died. At that point, the one who accidentally killed someone was atoned for and was permitted to return to the land he owned. The land on which the person was killed was no longer considered unclean and defiled (Num. 35:33-34).
Finally, G-d made provision for the daughters of Tz’lof’chad to maintain their inheritance by commanding that they marry within their tribe. Otherwise, their inheritance would become part of the tribe into which they married. The translation of the daughter’s names is important as are all names in the Torah. Tz’lof’chad the son of Hefer had no sons. The names of the daughters of Tz’lof’chad were Machlah [infirmity], No’ah [movement], Hoglah [dancing], Milkah [queen] and Tirtzah [pleasing].
Haftarah: Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) 2:4-28; 4:1-2
This haftorah is the second of a series of three “haftarot of affliction.” These three haftarot are read during the Three Weeks of mourning for Jerusalem, between the fasts of 17 Tammuz and 9 Av. It is beneficial to your learning to research this fast day and understand its relevance to the time period. See if you can separate facts from tradition.
The prophet Jeremiah transmits G‑d’s message to the Jewish people, in strong tones chastising all the sectors of the people, including the leadership, for their abandonment of G-d. “What wrong did your forefathers find in Me, that they distanced themselves from Me, and they went after futility and themselves became futile?” He reminds them of the kindness G-d did for them, taking them out of Egypt and leading them through the desert and settling them in the Promised Land, yet they repaid kindness with disloyalty. “For My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken Me, the spring of living waters, [and furthermore, this was in order] to dig for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that do not hold water.”
G‑d asks them to view the actions of their neighboring nations, the Kittites and Kedarites, “and see whether there was any such thing, whether a nation exchanged a god, although they are not gods. Yet My nation exchanged their glory for what does not avail.”
Jeremiah then goes on to foretell the suffering the Jewish people will suffer at the hands of their enemies, and also their erstwhile allies: “Your evil will chastise you, and you will be rebuked for your backsliding; and you shall know and see that your forsaking the L‑rd your G‑d is evil and bitter.”
The haftorah ends on an encouraging note, assuring the people that if they return to G‑d with sincerity,they will be restored to their full glory.
B’rit Chadashah: Ya’akov (James) 4:1-12
We come full circle to the admonishment by James similar to that Moshe gave the people we mentioned at the beginning of this lesson. Again, it is important to research the names of the places the people of Israel stopped on their journey to the land because it is applicable to our walk with G-d. We must never forget from whence we came and must never forget our Source of help. This was the rationale for G-d commanding Moshe to recall the places and sins of the people at each place they camped. Self- examination of done honestly is a humbling but beneficial experience. The names of the camps remind the people that G-d was with them every step of the way. It was they who wandered away from G-d, not the reverse. Similarly, James brings to the people’s attention the source of their quarreling and fights are selfish motives not of G-d. James reminds us that we cannot walk the fence with the lusts of the world and pagan religion on one side and G-d’s Torah and a Torah-observant life on the other. We are to submit to G-d and no other. We must choose to stand for G-d and His Torah and the Adversary will flee. Repeating James 4:8 extending to verse 10 reads: “Come close to G-d and He will come close to you. Clean your hands, sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded people! Wail, mourn, sob! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom! Humble yourselves before the L-rd, and He will lift you up.”
We are not to judge one another for that is likened to judging Torah and speaking contrary to its teachings. If we judge, we are not Torah observant; rather we are acting as a judge. There is only one Giver of the Torah, and only one Judge with the power to deliver or destroy our souls. It is arrogant for us to believe we can judge other human beings and we must train ourselves to overcome our human nature and instinct to judge others. Consider this; when we judge others are we not seeing a reflection of our own shortcomings?
Rabbi Tamah Davis-Hart