Gathering Sources: Mattot-Masei

Some thoughts and resources for exploring the double Torah portion Matot-Masei. Matot — also spelled Mattot, sometimes Mattoth or Matos — is composed of Numbers 30:2- 32:48 and is usually read along with Masei — also spelled — Numbers 33:1-26:13. In some leap years, but not all, the two portions are read separately.

The double portion is next read in most of the Diaspora and beginning with minchah on July 27 and concluding with on Shabbat morning August 3, 2019. (At Temple Micah in Washington, DC — which follows an idiosyncratic schedule — the two portions are read separately, putting the congregation’s reading schedule back in synch with the rest of the Jewish world with August 10 reading of Devarim.)

Matot A Path to Follow: What’s the Beef with Midian?

Matot Something to Notice: Kashering utensils

Masei Great Source: Ahad Ha-am on the prophet



See also:

Prayer Link: Seeing You in 42 Familiar Places

Dvar Torah: You Didn’t Have to Be There

Dvar Torah in memory of Max Ticktin (z”l): Heavy Tongue, or the House of Cards theory of bible study


This is part of a series of weekly “gathering sources” posts, collecting previous material on the weekly Torah portion, most originally part of a 2010 series called “Opening the Book.”

Gathering Sources: Naso

Some thoughts and resources for exploring the Torah portion, Naso — sometimes spelled Nasso — Numbers 4:21-7:89. This is part of a series of weekly “gathering sources” posts, collecting previous material on the weekly Torah portion, most originally part of a 2010 series called “Opening the Book”:

A Path to Follow: Cherubim

Something to Notice: Priestly Blessing and Peace

Great Source(s): Bob Dylan and Mystery Midrash

Language and Translation: the offense

See also: Naso: Prayer Links on their own gifts

God’s Shadow: Naso Prayer Links

For those attempting to follow Gathering Sources weekly postings, note that this one is appearing out of order, after schedule got off-track with Shavuot. Apologies. Nearly caught up.

Gathering Sources: Bamidbar

Thoughts and resources for exploring the Torah portion, Bamidbar — sometimes: Bemidbar or B’midbar — Numbers 1:1-4:20. This is part of a series of weekly “gathering sources” posts, collecting previous material on the weekly Torah portion, most originally part of a 2010 series called “Opening the Book”:

A Path to Follow: From One Month

Something to Notice: God Grieves

Great Source: The Biography of Ancient Israel

See also: Bamidbar: Prayer Links

Note to those trying to follow the Gathering Sources series: Postings lagged following Shavuot. Sorry. Catching up.

Gathering Sources: Chukat

Some thoughts on the Torah portion, Chukat — also spelled: Chukkat, Chukkas, and Hukat — Numbers 19:1-22:1. This is part of a series of weekly “gathering sources” posts, collecting previous material on the weekly Torah portion, most originally part of a 2010 series called “Opening the Book”:

Great Source(s): Miriam’s Well

Language and translation: Bards? Rhapsodes?

A Path to Follow: Rise Up, O Well

Something to Notice: A Very Big White Space

See also: Then Israel Sang

Note to those trying to follow the Gathering Sources series: posting went off schedule with Shavuot. Sorry. This post comes in advance of the reading of Chukat, in most of the Diaspora on July 13, Shabbat, beginning on mincha July 6, and missing posts will appear soon.

Gathering Sources: Korach

Here are some thoughts on the Torah portion “Korach” — sometimes “Korah” — Numbers 16:1-18:32. This is part of a series of weekly “gathering sources” posts, collecting previous material on the weekly Torah portion, most originally part of a 2010 series called “Opening the Book”:

Something to Notice: Psalms of “Sons of Korach”

Great Source: “The Nursing Father” by Alicia Ostriker

A Path to Follow: The Covenant of Salt

Language and Translation: Drawing Near

See also: Korach and the Liturgy

Korach and Dysfunctional Systems

Korach is next read in most of the Diaspora beginning on mincha June 29 through Shabbat July 6.

Note 6/27/19 to anyone who has been following the “Gathering Sources” posts: The three missing posts are coming soon. But first, look for the upcoming portion Chukkat as we catch up. Apologies for any confusion or inconvenience (got off-track with Shavuot).

Gathering Sources: Shelach

Here are some thoughts on the Torah portion “Shelach” or “Shelach Lekha” — sometimes spelled “Shlach,” “Sh’lah,” or “Shlach Lecha” — Numbers 13:1-15:41. This is part of a series of weekly “gathering sources” posts, collecting previous material on the weekly Torah portion, most originally part of a 2010 series called “Opening the Book”:

A Path to Follow: Bialik and the unsuccessful going up

Language and Translation: “Make for themselves tzitzit

Something to Notice: Fringe-gathering meditation

Great Source(s)-1: Sapphires Recount

Great Source(s)-2: Shefa Gold and “Dirt to Life”

Next read in most of the Diaspora on June 29, 2019.

Note 6/27/19 to anyone who has been following the “Gathering Sources” posts: The three missing posts are coming soon. But first, look for the upcoming portions Korach and Chukkat. Apologies for any confusion or inconvenience (got off-track with Shavuot).

Korach and Dysfunctional Systems

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Earlier this week, my town experienced a police-involved killing, and an elected representative of the community was on the scene shortly afterward. He told reporters he did not want to repeat he-said/she-said but was awaiting video and other evidence: “My job is to get the facts – what happened.”

I’m sure many readers know or can guess the specifics, but I’m leaving them out because I think this situation, like the tale of Korach and his followers — a narrative, which Jews read this week in the annual Torah cycle (Numbers 16:1-18:32), about community and power — has something more universal to teach.

The Official Job

My first thought on hearing this official say his job was to “get the facts” was: No, that’s the job of police detectives and journalists; your job is legislative, budgetary, and related responses to the town’s many challenges. I realized immediately, however, that my first thought came from a fantasy world.

Leaving the facts to journalists and police only works in a world where community members can rely on those individuals and their institutions to pursue the full story, where some level of trust exists.

Officials from some other parts of town have the luxury of sticking to the duties for which they were elected, the privilege of living and working where basic systems appear to be functioning — at least for the people they represent. In the hugely unlikely event that a police-involved killing (God forbid any more anywhere) were to arise on the streets of some other districts in town, elected representatives and constituents could continue their own work, while expecting investigative professionals to do theirs.

This particular official, however, operates amid systems which have long since ceased to function for too many of the people he represents.

So, what exactly is his job? Can it possibly be similar to those of his official colleagues?

The Rebellion

In the bible story, Korach and his followers accuse Moses and Aaron of exalting themselves over the congregation of God. Although teachers over the centuries have made efforts to find some merit in Korach’s argument, he remains the poster child for the evils of greed, self-aggrandizement, and self-interested politics.

We also read that Dathan and Abiram call Moses unfit to lead the People, given that his leadership has already resulted in them being condemned to die in the wilderness (Num 16:13). Just a few chapters earlier, God announced a punishment, following the incident of the spies, for all the adults: “your carcasses shall drop in this Wilderness. Your children will roam for forty years and bear your guilt…” (Num 14:32-33).

The argument from Dathan and Abiram fares no better, in the bible narrative, than Korach’s initial challenge, and the result is catastrophic:

So Moses stood up and went to Dathan and Abiram, and the elders of Israel followed him. He spoke to the assembly, saying, “Turn away from near the tents of these wicked men, and do not touch anything of theirs, lest you perish because of all their sins.” So they got themselves up from near the dwelling of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, from all around….

When he finished speaking all these words, the ground that was under them split open. The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, and all the people who were with Korach, and the entire wealth.
— Num 16:26-27, 31-32

Things go from bad to worse in the bible story, and the Children of Israel eventually tell Moses: “Behold! we perish, we are lost, we are all lost….Will we ever stop perishing?” (Num 17:27-28)

Our Job

Every year when we come to this Torah portion, I find myself worrying about the failures of communication involved in the rebellions and wondering how differently things might have evolved, given better listening.

Why are Moses and Aaron, and God, so surprised and unhinged by the People’s lapse of faith (in the spies incident, previous portion)? What if God had just heard their worries instead of responding so negatively to their hesitation?

Why are Moses and Aaron, and God, unable to hear the people’s desperation and anger, in the face of completely failed expectations?

And what is our job, as community members — and, if appropriate, as Jews — whether we live in an area suffering from severe system break-down or not? How might better listening, and closer attention to circumstances behind complaints and rebellion, change things?