- Torah Portion and Tanach
The cataclysmic journey ("Masei") of Bnei Yisrael through the desert is now, at last, coming to an end. Our double-sedra of Matot-Masei is a fitting conclusion to the book of Bamidbar that we began 10 Parshiyot ago.
"Bamidbar," we remarked, is connected to the root word, "Dibur," or speech. This entire Sefer revolves prominently around the power of speech – its ability to bring great blessing or, in its worst context, to do great harm. Let’s look at how speech so vividly features in Bamidbar:
In Naso, the Nazir takes a vow of abstinence; the Kohanim pronounce the three-part Priestly Blessing;
In B’Ha’alotcha, the people who have missed out on bringing the Korban Pesach petition Hashem to give them another chance; later, the people complain bitterly about their living conditions, & Miriam & Aharon criticize their brother Moshe, in the classic case of Lashon Hara;
In Sh’lach, the Meraglim bring back a negative report regarding the conquest of Israel; Moshe then enunciates the 13 Attributes of Hashem to heal the wounded nation.
Next, Korach forcefully speaks out against Moshe’s leadership, utilizing clever cliches; in response, the "mouth" of the Earth miraculously opens, swallowing up Korach & his followers.
In Chukat, the people continue their complaints. Moshe is told to speak to the rock to produce water, but strikes it instead. The Song of the Book of Wars of Hashem – the second song in the Torah - is sung.
In Parshat Balak, Bilaam is hired to curse Am Yisrael, but ends up praising the Jewish People in flowery language.
In Pinchas, the daughters of Z’lafchad boldly request that they be granted a portion in the Land, a petition that is answered favorably.
Finally, in our Sedra, the Torah deals with the importance of keeping vows and promises. Later, Reuven & Gad request permission from Moshe to dwell on the east bank of the Jordan.
All this reinforces the importance the Torah affords to speech. Indeed, the central source of our power & our energy derives from using our ability to speak positively in numerous areas: Prayer, study, words of consolation, Lashon Tov.
As Matot’s opening so succinctly declares: "Kal hayotzei mi’piv, ya’aseh." Which I suggest means: "All that comes out of our mouth, He (G-d) will do." So guard your tongue & sanctify your speech. Words, literally, for us to live by.
"Chazak, Chazak, V’Nitchazek" – Why do we say it? At the conclusion of each book of the Torah (such as this Shabbat), Ashkenaz congregations rise & say this phrase, urging us to be strong & to strengthen one another; the Torah reader then repeats it (the Oleh customarily does NOT say it, as it may constitute an interruption of his bracha). S’fardim, alternatively, say "Chazak (U’Baruch)" after EVERY Torah reading. The source for this Minhag may be Yehoshua 1:8-9 or Shmuel II 10:12 that stresses being strong and of good courage (to follow the dictates of the Torah).