Matot/Masei (Numbers 30:2 – 36:13)
“These are the journeys of the children of Israel when they came out of Egypt by their divisions under the hand of Moses and Aaron. Moses recorded the stages of their journeys at the Lord’s command. These then are their journeys by stages”
As the Lord speaks the Ten Commandments to Israel from Mt. Sinai, he reminds them that it was he who delivered them out from the house of bondage, out of the land of Egypt. The remembrance of the exodus from Egypt serves as the point of departure, as well as a remembrance for a nation as it worships, celebrates, and relates to the human other, “The outsider dwelling among you shall be to you as the native-born among you. You shall love him as yourself – for you dwelled as outsiders in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19:34; cf. Lev. 19:18). At the close of the Book of Numbers, the Lord reminds Israel of her journeys of the past forty years – the places where she stopped, and from where she set out.
The journey begins with grace. Even with the many setbacks experienced by the children of Israel in the wilderness, the journey from Egypt began with the grace of God. The journey was then sustained by the grace of God, and it would end in the Promised Land by the grace of God.
At the beginning of every Shabbat (Sabbath) and every holiday, the Jewish people are reminded by prayer of the grace of the exodus from Egypt. It is a remembrance of being slaves, of being exiled, and of being “the other” within a society. This ever-present reminder of our history, the current reality of others, and the possibility of experiencing this condition once again, should keep the heart compassionate and eager to serve “the other” to the glory of God (Matt. 5:16).
The journey of the life of faith in Messiah also begins with grace, and it too is characterized as a deliverance/salvation from bondage – a continuation of the exodus from Egypt theme. The apostle Paul wrote, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not from yourselves – it is the gift of God. It is not based on deeds, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship – created in Messiah Jesus for good deeds, which God prepared beforehand so we might walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10).
Of great importance in our faith life is to remember our condition when the Lord delivered us. It is easy to forget, focusing on the good feelings of the present and the victories by faith we have witnessed. But remembering our point of departure, and where we have been, will help us to see more clearly where we are going, and what we are to do along the way.
It is easy for the journey to become one of complaint for what we lack or have lost, but the Lord desires it to be a journey of faith-obedience that impacts the lives of those around us (Ro. 1:8), not just those like us, but those unlike us (Lk. 10:25-37). While we may not be able to make grandiose gestures of care – building hospitals, orphanages, houses, or paying for education – we can help with food, water, clothing, visitation and encouragement along the way (Matt. 25:31-46). More than that, we can all share simple acts of kindness, or use our voice to speak for those who lack a position from which to speak.
I pray that we use this journey, and the time graced to us, to be a bright light of the Gospel and an example of the self-sacrificial love of Messiah Yeshua/Jesus to all. From this Torah portion, let us remember the grace that we received at the beginning, the grace we continue to receive, and the grace that we will receive at our end – let us remember that we were once enslaved, hopeless, hungry, strangers in need of aid – let us remember where he found us, and where he might direct us to find others. Let us remember that it is the Messiah that we serve, and the living message of the Gospel that we are to share – a timeless message of eternal hope for all.
Be well, shalom;
Dr. J.D. Elwell