Matot-Masei Kabbalat Shabbat

Parashat Matot-Masei / פרשת מטות־מסעי
Friday night

Does anyone here make promises we aren’t entirely sure we can keep? This week we address that issue!

Mattot-Maasei is the combination of two parshiot. We conclude the book of Numbers, Bamidbar, and in a way, we conclude the Torah. We hear the journey to the Land of Israel and discuss all the details that we will need to know once we get there. Many laws are discussed, and integrity is a central value discussed here.

I know it is not yet Yom Kippur, but this week’s parsha opens with a discussion about vows and oaths, a neder or a shavua. We are told that:

ג  אִישׁ כִּי-יִדֹּר נֶדֶר לַיהוָה, אוֹ-הִשָּׁבַע שְׁבֻעָה לֶאְסֹר אִסָּר עַל-נַפְשׁוֹ--לֹא יַחֵל, דְּבָרוֹ:  כְּכָל-הַיֹּצֵא מִפִּיו, יַעֲשֶׂה.3 When a man voweth a vow unto the LORD, or sweareth an oath to bind his soul with a bond, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth. 

Elsewhere in our Torah, in Exodus 25:11, we have a description of the Ark that was in the Temple. Just like the Menorah it was pure gold, inside and out.

  וְצִפִּיתָ אֹתוֹ זָהָב טָהוֹר, מִבַּיִת וּמִחוּץ תְּצַפֶּנּוּ; וְעָשִׂיתָ עָלָיו זֵר זָהָב, סָבִיב.
11 And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, within and without shalt thou overlay it, and shalt make upon it a crown of gold round about.

In Tractate Yoma (72b), the Masechet/volume of Talmud discussing Yom Kippur, Rava says: Any Torah scholar whose inside is not like his outside (who is not as righteous as he or she appears to be) is not a true Torah scholar. In order to be a true scholar, a true teacher, we must be able to ensure that we are living with integrity, that we live the values we teach.

And yet, the Talmud criticizes Rabban Gamliel for limiting Torah to those with perfect integrity.

תנא אותו היום סלקוהו לשומר הפתח ונתנה להם רשות לתלמידים ליכנס שהיה רבן גמליאל מכריז ואומר כל תלמיד שאין תוכו כברו לא יכנס לבית המדרש

It was taught: On that day that they removed Rabban Gamliel from his position and appointed Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya in his place, there was also a fundamental change in the general approach of the study hall as they dismissed the guard at the door and permission was granted to the students to enter. Instead of Rabban Gamliel’s selective approach that asserted that the students must be screened before accepting them into the study hall, the new approach asserted that anyone who seeks to study should be given opportunity to do so. As Rabban Gamliel would proclaim and say: Any student whose inside, his thoughts and feelings, are not like his outside, i.e., his conduct and his character traits are lacking, will not enter the study hall. (text from

I see a fundamental difference between the two texts--authority. Students, who do not yet have authority, need not have the same level of integrity that leaders/teachers must have. They are learning. They are struggling. They have not yet discovered where they stand on fundamental issues. Teachers and leaders, who have more maturity, must strive to be on a higher plane.

This is not demanding perfection. It is not claiming that they cannot make mistakes or fall short. It is simply setting a higher bar. In trying to find the daf from Yoma, I found words from Rabbi Susan Landau. She wrote:

“Tocho k’varo, matching our insides to our outsides, reminds us that this process doesn’t mean starting from scratch: we have gold on the inside, too. The work of doing t’shuvah , of returning to our best selves, is the process of hammering out the bad parts of ourselves; cleaning off the smudges of mistakes and missteps that cloud our windows, and prevent our inner gold from shining Through. Tocho k’varo is an aspiration to embody our authentic selves.”

Her words really resonated with me. One of the greatest gifts of our faith is the opportunity for teshuva, for repentance, for return. It reminds us that within all of us is great potential, great opportunity, great beauty. Through working on ourselves, we can discover the gold within. In this way, we can truly refine our behavior to ensure that our insides and outsides radiate wholeness, beauty and love. Shabbat Shalom