Mattos-Massei; A Direct Connection :
As far as I am aware, there is no bigger leining than this double sedra; a total of 244 psukim (that’s 68 more than Naso, the longest single sedra.) The central theme of the two sedras (massei especially) is our impending entry into Eretz Yisrael and our consequent preparations. Thus, Moshe is told to defeat the Midianites and afterwards he is to die (his death occurs at the end of Chumash Devarim). There is also the request of the tribes of Gad and Reuven to be given land on the other side of the Jordan River, and, like any series of journeys, there is a summary of all the journeys of Bnei Yisrael – showing us that the journeying has come to and end. Much of massei deals with appropriating the land, with preparations for building cities of refuge (for people who killed unintentionally) there .
Let's focus on two psukim to bring out an important theme… Right at the start of chapter 31, HaShem tells Moshe to "take revenge on behalf of Bnei Yisrael against the midianites," (31;2) yet when Moshe immediately repeats this command to the people, he makes an important alteration. He says "…to take the revenge of HaShem against the midianites (31;3)." Why does Moshe change the reason for the revenge from for Bnei Yisrael to for HaShem?
The Targum Onkelus (31;3) explains the word 'HaShem' used by Moshe as 'the nation of HaShem,' which presumably is akin to the explanation of Rashi (31;3) that Moshe was teaching us that standing up against the Bnei Yisrael is like standing up to HaShem. In fact, we find several statements in Chazal centred around this theme; for example that hitting a Jew is like giving a hit to HaShem (gemarra sotah apparently) or that hating a Jew is like hating HaShem. It is interesting that according to Rashi's explanation, the Bnei Yisrael would not have known this message at the time, since they would not have known that Moshe switched the message (unless they knew that HaShem had told Moshe 'the revenge of Bnei Yisrael' – which seems unlikely).
The Meshech Chochmah (Vayikra 23;24 ‘yihiyeh’) offers another wonderful explanation to this apparent contradiction, based on a general principle. He says that there is a general rule that HaShem ascribes achievements/events to us, His people, whilst we are quick to ascribe them to Him. (He calls the relationship one of two beings in love; each one wants to give credit to the other). An example is the two words for the festival of Pesach: In the Torah, Pesach is predominantly called 'Chag Hamatzos,' whilst we tend to call it 'Pesach' instead. Why do we not follow the Torah name? Since HaShem chooses to call it Chag Hamatzos after our actions in committing ourselves to Him via eating the korban pesach and baking matzos. But we want to name the festival Pesach after HaShem's actions – that He passed over our houses in Egypt and spared us during the plague of the firstborns. Another precedent is found in tefillin. Our tefillin has pesukim of the shmah, etc telling of the greatness of HaShem. Yet we are also told that HaShem wears tefillin (brachos, chagigah 3b; not to be taken at a purely simple level), which say on them 'who is like Your nation Israel' ('mi ke'amcha yisrael' – we say this at Shabbes mincha) – again the theme of our speaking of HaShem and Him speaking about us (from Jack Samad). Thus, when HaShem commanded Moshe to take revenge from the Midyanites, it was to be on behalf of the Bnei Yisrael, whereas Moshe ascribes the glory to HaShem in calling it 'the revenge for HaShem.' Therefore, the explanations of Rashi and Onkelus do not fall so far from that of the Meshech Chochmah, in principle.
One can see this theme of HaShem being a part (so to speak) of the Bnei Yisrael in our reflecting of Him in the sharing of the battle spoils from the war against Midyan. Moshe orders (31; 25-30) that the spoils of the war be divided into two between the people and the army. Then, of the army part, 1/500th is to be given to HaShem, whilst from the people's part 1/50th is to be given to the Leviim who guarded HaShem's Mishkan (31;30). Why was this complicated method of splitting up the spoils followed? Why not just have three sections from the start; one for the people, one for the army, and the third for HaShem/the leviimm? The answer is based upon the above theme - in first splitting up the spoils into people and army, and only then giving HaShem's parts from each part, we are told that HaShem is (so to speak) part of us and not just an external third part. This is demonstrated wonderfully via a (true) story…There was once an argument in America between two parents and their son; he wanted to go to yeshiva whilst the boy's parents did not. The father came up with an idea – they would go to Rav Moshe Feinstein to see what he had to say on the matter. Naturally, the son was very pleased with this idea, and agreed. But the father had prepared his lines, and when the three of them went into R Moshe's office, the father said; 'Rabbi, I am going to prove to you by your own Torah that my son should not go to yeshiva. You see, the gemarra says (this is true, it does) that each person has three partners in their makeup; their father, their mother, and HaShem. Now, two of those three parts, his mother and father do not want him to go to yeshiva, whilst the last third as represented by you Rabbi, probably want him to go to yeshiva. But the Torah says to follow the majority (Shemos 23;2) and as such it's 2/3 v 1/3 in our favour, so my boy should not go to yeshiva.' R Feinstein smiled and politely explained 'you have not told the entire story. You see, it is true that each person has three thirds within them, but so do you and the child's mother. So let's see – of you there are 2/3 who want the child not to go to yeshiva, but 1/3 (HaShem) who does want him to go. And the same is true of the boy’s mother. Now, all three thirds of me want him to go to yeshiva, and as such 5/9 want him to go to yeshiva, whilst only 4/9 are opposed. And you are fully correct, we follow the majority! The father was actually so impressed, he said 'if that is how they learn in yeshiva, then my son should definitely go!' Again, the story illustrates that sometimes we think that HaShem is that 'external part,' but we do not realise that He is an internal part too, amongst and within what we do.
In fact, this is the central facet of the Land of Israel which we prepare to enter in these sedras – this direct everyday connection between us and HaShem. It is a land where 'the eyes of HaShem constantly watch over it the entire year' (Dvarim 11;12), and we are told that whilst all the other lands are fed water (rain) via a shaliach, emissary, (I assume that Manchester has an entire team of shlichim to keep up with the workload) Eretz Yisrael is watered via HaShem Himself (taanis 10a). Both of these show the direct connection between us and HaShem present in the Land of Israel, as does the fact that this is the principal place of prophecy; Yonah ran away from the Land of Israel to remove his prophetic powers. So too does Rashi quote (taanis 17a 'debai') that the beis hamikdash is the 'ikkar, ' [main part] of the Land of Israel, meaning that the mikdash is the main place of direct connection with HaShem in it being 'HaShem's House,' and is thus the focal point of the goal of the entire land in accessing this direct connection.
Have a great Shabbes,

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