Parshat Mattot Summary

Parshat Mattot is the 9th parsha in Sefer Bamidbar (also known as Numbers).

This parsha is verses Numbers 30:2 – 32:42, or a total of 112 verses.

Here is a brief summary for each aliyah.

Aliyah 1: Numbers 30:2 – 30:17, 16 verses

This section deals with two categories of statements a person can make.

The first category is a vow (Hebrew: neder). The second category is an oath (Hebrew: shevuah).

The concepts of neder and shevuah involve many details.

In general terms, a neder creates a prohibition on an object that would otherwise be permitted. For example, a neder not to eat a specific piece of cake.

A shevuah creates a new obligation on a person. That is, with a shevuah a person forbids to himself something which is permitted. For example, a person makes a shevuah not to eat cake.

A person is expected to fulfill all of his or her vows and oaths.

However, a father may annual the vow or oath of a young daughter who is under his jurisdiction.

Also, a husband may annual the vow or oath of his wife under certain circumstances.

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Aliyah 2: Numbers 31:1 – 31:12, 12 verses

The Midianites played a major role in the sin of the Jewish people as recorded at the end of Parshat Balak.

At the beginning of Parshat Pinchas (Numbers 25:16 – 18) God gave Moses permission to destroy Midian.

God tells Moses that now is the time to destroy them. Moses ordered that 1000 warriors should be assembled from each tribe.

They fought against Midian and destroyed the men including their kings and also Balaam who had tried to curse the Jewish people.

They captured all of the Midianite cities and took all of their animals as spoils.

Aliyah 3: Numbers 31:13 – 31:24, 12 verses

The Jewish army had kept alive women and children. Moses informed them that the only ones who should be permitted to live were the young girls.

Elazar the High Priest instructed the army how to purify the utensils they had captured. He also reminded them how to make themselves pure if they had come in contact with a corpse.

Aliyah 4: Numbers 31:25 – 31:41, 17 verses

God commanded Moses that the spoils from the battle should be divided evenly between the warriors and the rest of the people who did not go out to war.

These were the total spoils from the war:

  • flock animals (sheep and goats) – 675,000
  • cattle – 72,000
  • donkeys – 61,000
  • female captives – 32,000

Both the warriors and the non-warriors were commanded to give a portion of their spoils as a gift to God. In practical terms, that meant they gave it to the priests.

Parshat Mattot

The warriors were to give a gift of 1 part in 500. The non-warriors a larger gift of 1 part in 50.

This is half of the spoils given to the warriors:

  • flock – spoils 337,500; gift 675
  • cattle – spoils 36,000; gift 72
  • donkeys – spoils 30,500; gift 61
  • female captives – spoils 16,000; gift 32

Aliyah 5: Numbers 31:42 – 31:54, 13 verses

This is half of the spoils given to the non-warriors:

  • flock – spoils 337,500; gift 6,750
  • cattle – spoils 36,000; gift 720
  • donkeys – spoils 30,500; gift 610
  • female captives – spoils 16,000; gift 320

The commanders of the warriors discovered that none of the warriors they commanded had been killed in battle. They brought a type of thanksgiving offering of gold vessels and jewelry to Moses and Elazar the High Priest.

The amount of gold in this offering weighed 16,750 shekels.

Aliyah 6: Numbers 32:1 – 32:19, 19 verses

This chapter of Bamidbar / Numbers is about two tribes requesting permission to live permanently on the east side of the Jordan River.

The tribes of Reuben and Gad came to Moses and the other leaders of the people. They proclaimed that they had lots of livestock and that the land east of the Jordan was perfect for livestock.

Moses was extremely upset with them. He accused them of refusing to help conquer the Land of Canaan. He accused them of being like the spies. He said their action would keep the rest of the Jewish people from crossing the Jordan to settle the land.

The children of Reuben and Gad explained that they would build a place for their livestock and families to live. Then they would cross the Jordan as warriors to help conquer the land.

Here’s a question to think about: Did Moses interpret their original request correctly, or did he misunderstand them?

In other words, is the explanation of the Reuben and Gad truly an explanation, or did they modify their request based on what Moses said?

Aliyah 7: Numbers 32:20 – 32:42, 23 verses

Moses accepts the request of the tribes of Reuben and Gad, with a condition. They will be permitted to settle east of the Jordan only if they help conquer the land west of the Jordan.

Moses also pointed out to them that they needed to provide first for their families and then for their livestock.

The tribes of Gad and Reuben accepted Moses’ condition.

Moses informs Joshua and Elazar the High Priest of his decision since they are the ones who will lead the Jewish people into the Land of Israel.

Moses gives to the tribes of Gad and Reuben the land on the east side of the Jordan River that was conquered from Sihon and Og. Those battles are recorded in Parshat Chukat.

Moses added that one-half of the tribe of Menasseh should also dwell east of the Jordan. The other half would have their inheritance west of the Jordan.

The two and a half tribes proceed to finish driving out the remnants of the nations that previously lived there and fortifying the cities for their families.

Haftarah Summary

Jeremiah 1:1 – 2:3

This haftarah does not relate directly to the parsha. Rather it is one of the haftarahs that are read leading up to the day of mourning, the Ninth of Av.

God tells Jeremiah that he is to be a prophet to inform the Jewish people of God’s judgment against them. The haftarah ends with an assurance that despite the judgment, God will not completely forsake His people.

Further Reading

Here’s an article about the status of Balaam as a prophet.

A Note on the Translations
The translation of Bible verses is based on the Judaica Press Tanach.
The translation of Gemara is based on the Soncino Talmud.
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