7/24/2014

Shabbat Masei

Rosh Hodesh Av Monday July 28th
Candles Friday 25th 7.58pm
Havdalah 26th 8.52pm

This week the Torah lists all the places the Children of Israel camped at during their 40 year trek from Egypt to Israel. The lands conquered and not yet, are then allocated to the tribes as the narrative of the Torah concludes before the final push over the river Jordan into the Land of Israel. Remember the last book of the Torah, Devarim is essentially a revision of the forty years and a repetition of the laws.

Two seemingly unimportant issues are added to this narrative. One is the idea of Cities of Refuge. If one was suspected of a crime or had unintentionally committed one, a person might in that time (as in parts of the world today) be killed as part of a blood feud. To avoid this one could escape to one of twelve cities (really towns) of refuge, cities inhabited mainly by priests but functioning as any other settlement would so that one could continue an occupation and earn a living. There one could live with one’s family protected until the wheels of justice finally settled the issue (or the High Priest died). It was a crucial component in the penal system. Unlike our modern concept if prison (incarceration). It symbolized the need to preserve the pace, to control hotheads and to provide refuge for whoever felt threatened even by members of one’s own family.

The second episode concerns the Heads of the Tribes raising issues of fairness in allocation of lands in Israel, specifically with what would happen if a woman who owned land in one tribe married someone from another.

These two seemingly minor issue were dealt with right at the end of the forty year saga before arriving in the Land of Israel. The message was clear. Conquering a land is one stage. But making sure the people could live securely and fairly under a just legal system, with mechanisms for settling disputes, was even more important for the long term health of the people.