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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Matot

The Courage To Kasher

Rabbi Stewart WeissTamuz 29 5775
151
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Any number of weighty topics can be found in our double-portion of Matot-Masei, the longest Torah reading of the year!

The Torah discusses the sacred obligation to fulfill our vows and oaths; the war fought against Midian (wherein Bilam the Rasha is killed); the saga of Reuven, Gad and half the tribe of Menashe’s petition to Moshe to live in trans-Jordan; the delineation of the borders of Israel; and
the institution of the Cities of Refuge.

But there is another subject quietly tucked away into these 244 p’sukim, an item which I find to be most peculiar and most incongruous: the halachot of koshering utensils. After the battle with Midian, Israel takes possession of numerous pots, pans, etc. that must be "purged" of their non-kosher taste, and so we are instructed about the laws of hagala (immersion in boiling water); libun (passing the items through fire) and
dipping them in a mikva - all forms of ritual purification.

Granted, these laws are important, and they are followed to this very day. But why would they be stated davka HERE, rather than in sections of the Torah that deal with pure halacha, like Mishpatim, Kedoshim, or parshat Ki Tetze?

To answer, let me recount a seminal incident in my life.

The entire student body of our Yeshiva (Skokie) was told to gather in the auditorium for a special assembly. The dean of the Yeshiva, Dr. Yosef Babad, then addressed us. A prominent scholar from a rabbinic dynasty, I had never seen him so emotional as he spoke these words to us:

"Bochurim," he said, "each and every year when we come to the reading of Matot-Masei, I tremble. In my mind's eye, I see Moshe shaking his finger in rebuke at Reuven, Gad and Menashe, and his caustic words rattle my very soul:

‘Shall your brothers go out to battle & you will sit here?!’

And I know that he is speaking directly to me, asking me why I stay in Galut while others fight the battles of Hashem in our holy land. But no more. Although I have tarried far too long, and am no longer a youngster, I am now finally coming home, making Aliya, joining my brothers & sisters in Israel. And now, my neshama will be cleansed."

The laws of koshering, you see, are about more than dishes and silverware. They actually embody every subject in our sedra: They are about keeping our sacred vows; they are about fighting the most difficult of internal battles; they are about leaving Cities of Refuge for our true home; they are about crossing borders and going back to the place we belong. Mostly, they are about purging the imperfections within us,
purifying our souls and returning them to their pristine state.


Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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