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Parshat Matot – Unity in Intellect and Emotion

Numbers 30:2-32:42 from 16 July till 22 July 2023

 אֶ֚לֶף לַמַּטֶּ֔ה אֶ֖לֶף לַמַּטֶּ֑ה לְכֹל֙ מַטּ֣וֹת יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל תִּשְׁלְח֖וּ לַצָּבָֽא׃

“A thousand from a tribe, a thousand from a tribe, for all the tribes of Israel shall you send to the legion” (Numbers 31:4)

When the Tenach gives an apparent repetition, it should make us curious, after all it does not repeat itself without reason.

The sages teach that from each tribe, including the tribe of Levi – which normally is exempt from military service – (Sifrei Bamidbar 157:3) 2x 1000 men were called to battle. The question then is why it was not said “from each tribe 2000”. The sages taught that there were 1000 soldiers who would go into physical battle with Midian and 1000 soldiers who would go into spiritual battle. One group would defeat the enemies with the sword, the other through prayer.

וַיְדַבֵּ֤ר מֹשֶׁה֙ אֶל־הָעָ֣ם לֵאמֹ֔ר הֵחָלְצ֧וּ מֵאִתְּכֶ֛ם אֲנָשִׁ֖ים לַצָּבָ֑א וְיִהְיוּ֙ עַל־מִדְיָ֔ן לָתֵ֥ת נִקְמַת־ד‘ בְּמִדְיָֽן׃

Moses spoke to the militia, saying, “Let troops be picked out from among you for a campaign, and let them fall upon Midian to wreak ‘ד s vengeance on Midian. (Numbers 31:3)

According to Midrash Tanchuma on verse 3 these men were all righteous/ tsadikim. Although we can derive such a conclusion from the word אנשים because this word is superfluous in the text. Women did not join the army in those days [1]. Moreover, they were not only righteous, but they qualified for the appellation חסידים, “pious,” because they had been confronted with a powerful temptation and had conquered it.[2]

What had they conquered? The previous Parsha was the Parsha of Pinchas which was linked to Bileam and Balak who had brought Midianite women among the people, with the intention of infecting the people from within with idolatry and immoral sexual behavior.

Amalek and Midian (and Moav) were arch enemies, however, in their struggle against Israel they are one. Amalek entered the battle just before Israel received the 10 Torah and Midian entered the battle just before Israel was to enter the land. (At a later date we see that they will fight Israel together – Judges 6:33).

An important lesson to learn from this is that the moment something big and important is about to happen in your life on the spiritual plane, the forces of the other side are the strongest. In addition, it teaches us the importance of unity. When you join forces together in unity, there is a greater chance of success.

The numerical value of the Hebrew letters of Amalek (עמלק) is 240—the same as the value of the Hebrew word for “doubt” (ספק)[3].

It reaches out to us thoughts like: Do I want to make that commitment? Can I achieve that?  Am I fit for it? Etc.

We therefore see that in the battle with Amalek, Moses plays the “leading role”. If he raises his hands to heaven, the people win; if he puts his hands down, Amalek wins. If he raises his hands, the people look upwards, to the sky, and focus their trust – emunah – on G-d. If the hands are down, the people look to earth, to the physical reality in which the enemy seems stronger. But with trust – and have not doubts in G-d, one can win any battle.

Emunah is not always easy. With our minds, our intellect, we must learn to reason that G-d is with us. We can do that by meditating on His Greatness and Omnipotence. But also, by meditating on the miracles He performs for those who rely on Him. The people of Israel could reason intellectually that G-d would save them. After all, He had brought them out of Egypt with great miracles and signs for a reason, not to let them by killed by Amalek, but to receive the Torah, and not to let them by killed by Midian, but to enter the land G-d promise them.

Amalek says you don’t have to put your trust in G-d; in fact, Amalek doesn’t believe in G-d at all. Amalek wants to make people doubt G-d by pointing out to them that G-d does not exist. People should therefore have confidence only in their own physical ability and mental capabilities. [4]

Moses’ struggle was a struggle for the right intellect. Does it choose to trust in G-d or does it choose to trust in its own ability.

When atheism (Amalek) can just win, it disguises itself in other forms. Amalek עֲמָלֵ֑ק becomes Bileam בִּלְעָם and Balak בָּלָ֖ק who start using Midian for their plan to attack the people of Israel. If the attack fails to damage the people’s faith in G-d, then the evil side is going to try to attack the people through an attack on Kedusha/ holiness.

We already saw in the text above that this desecration was brought about by wrong women and the idolatry associated with them. The idolatry was linked to Ba’al Pe’or.

Torah teaches that man’s job is to ensure that holiness arises in the lowest forms of creation. It is up to us to use everything G-d has given us to the honor of His Name. Ba’al Pe’or represents the opposite.

Pe’or is in its essence hedonism: the indulgence in sensual pleasure as an end rather than for the higher purpose of experiencing Divinity or infusing Divinity into reality. It can also stand for the complete opposite the thought that physical pleasures are to low and vulgar to serve Divine purposes or are somehow off-limits for the holy life. Think of the monks of various religious denominations who separate themselves from the (physical) world.[5]

It was Pinchas who fought against idolatry and the misuse of physical reality. To fight against wrong emotions.

You can use the intellect appropriately and you can use your emotions appropriately. However, these must be balanced with each other. If they are not balanced with each other, you are more easily tempted to make wrong choices because there is no unity within yourself. Because there is no true knowledge.

True knowledge דֵּעָה֙ arises where both the intellect and the emotions are focused on G-d.

We see that victory over both in Joshua’s battle against Amalek and Midian together. When both of those are overcome then there is true knowledge about G-d. As Isaiah 11 teaches.

כִּֽי־מָלְאָ֣ה הָאָ֗רֶץ דֵּעָה֙ אֶת־ד ‘כַּמַּ֖יִם לַיָּ֥ם מְכַסִּֽים׃

For the land shall be filled with knowledge of G-d as water covers the sea. (Isaiah 11:9)

Which will lead to a land that will be filled with devotion to G-d.

Only unity within yourself can lead to the proper worship of G-d. This unity applies not only to yourself, but also applies to the world around us.

We see this in our beginning verse. The people of Israel can only be victorious over Midian (and Amalek) if they form unity. A unity that was one in heart in their fear for their Father in heaven. This is represented by this verse by beginning with an aleph and ending with an aleph.[6]

G-d is the first and G-d is the last. He should be so on all fronts, in our hearts, in the Jewish people and in the world. That will be the time when the Temple will return.

This will be the time when people no longer pollute themselves with idolatry and with misusing the physical world. It will be the time when people will focus their intellect and their emotions completely on G-d. The time when His Kingship and His Holiness will be fully acknowledged. Then He returns to Jerusalem and to Tsion. [7]

כֹּ֚ה אָמַ֣ר ד’ שַׁ֚בְתִּי אֶל־צִיּ֔וֹן וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּת֣וֹךְ יְרֽוּשָׁלָ֑͏ִם וְנִקְרְאָ֤ה יְרוּשָׁלַ֙͏ִם֙ עִ֣יר הָֽאֱמֶ֔ת וְהַר־ ד’ צְבָא֖וֹת הַ֥ר הַקֹּֽדֶשׁ׃

Thus said G-d: I have returned to Zion, and I will dwell in Jerusalem. Jerusalem will be called the City of Faithfulness, and the mount of G-d of Hosts the Holy Mount. (Zechariah 8:3)


Which brings us back to our initial verse.

“One group would defeat the enemies with the sword, the other through prayer”.

We have to fight against physical forces and temptations, wrong intellectual thoughts, and we can only win this through prayer, through trust and help from G-d.

We must fight our wrong emotions and not let ourselves be led by physical pleasures or tempted by idolatry.

We must ensure unity between our good intellect and our good emotions so that we can be strong and live, and persevere to live, according to His will.

This will bring closer the Redemption and the time of the Temple.

By Angelique Sijbolts


[1] Siftei Chakhamim, Numbers 31:3:2

Righteous men. For the Torah should not have written “men” given that it is not the nature of women to go out to war, so obviously they were men. Rather, “men” comes to teach you that they were righteous. Likewise, in Parshas Shelach (13:2)

[2] Or HaChaim on Numbers 31:3:2
[3] Who Were Amalek and the Amalekites?
[4] See also
[5] Kehot Chumash Parsha Emot
[6] Kitzur Baal HaTurim on Numbers 31:4:1
[7] Moses is fighting the battle for Emunah. This is connected to Malchut, which is connected to Jerusalem. Pinchas, Joseph and Joshua fought the battle for Kedusha. Joseph and Tsion both have the same numerical value of 156.

נתיבות שלום

With thanks to B. Yaniger for the inspiration

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