Parashas Mattos-Masei

Parashas Mattos recounts the war of vengeance the Jewish People waged against Midian for luring them into licentious conduct. The Midrash in Bamidbar Rabbah 22:5 says that Moshe yearned to behold this act of vengeance before his death, and Hashem granted this wish. The Midrash links the episode to the following verse (Tehillim 58:11): “The righteous one rejoiced when he beheld vengeance.” Hashem’s command to wage this war reflects the principle that when a person causes someone else to sin, he bears blame. The Maggid discusses how far this principle goes. His discussion is based on the end of the verse in Tehillim from which the Midrash quotes: “His footsteps he washed in the blood of the wicked one.”
The Maggid’s starting point is the following passage in parashas Shoftim (Devarim 17:7):
If there is found within your midst, … a man or woman who does what is evil in Hashem’s eyes, … and goes and serves other gods …. You shall investigate diligently, and if, behold, it is true … that such an abomination was committed within Yisrael, … you shall stone him, so that he will die. …. The hand of the witnesses shall be upon him first to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people, and you shall purge the evil from within your midst.
In explaining this passage, the Maggid recalls the episode involving Yosef and his brothers recounted in Bereishis 44. Yosef gave his goblet to his attendant and told him to plant it in Binyamin’s sack, and then told the attendant to chase after his brothers and accuse them of stealing the goblet. When the goblet was found in Binyamin’s sack, the other brothers tore their clothes. The Midrash in Esther Rabbah 8:1 says that because Binyamin’s brothers tore their clothes on his account, retribution was exacted from Binyamin’s descendant Mordechai – he was led to tear his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes. We see that a person is held accountable in some way for everything he brings about, even when he was unaware of what was going to take place.
Continuing, the Maggid says that when someone turns into a criminal and ultimately commits so much evil that he must be put to death, it is inevitable that some people in his city had some role – either intentional or unintentional – in leading him to wrongdoing. For example, seeing someone in town wearing fancy clothes may have caused the criminal to be inflamed with jealousy, which played a part in some of his crimes. In this vein, we can homiletically interpret Shlomo HaMelech’s statement גם בלא דעת נפש לא טוב in Mishlei 19:2 as meaning that a soul can perpetrate acts that are not good even without knowledge. Thus, a person bears blame not only for deliberately inciting someone else to sin, as was the case with the Midianites and the Jews, but also – at some level – for inadvertently influencing someone else to commit a sin.
In the passage from parashas Shoftim quoted above, we can interpret the phrase “such an abomination was committed within Yisrael” as meaning that the offender’s idol worship implanted some culpability for such an abomination within the members of his community. Accordingly, the Torah provides the community members a simple way to cleanse themselves: each of them should participate in the stoning of the offender. As each person throws a stone, it is inevitable that he will feel some pain, for Jews are naturally compassionate. The person’s participation in the stoning and the resulting pain that he feels purge him of the trace of evil that was implanted within him by the offender’s sin. And thus the Torah says: “The hand of the witnesses shall be upon him first to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people, and you shall [thus] purge the evil from within your midst.”
The idea we just explained is reflected in the segment from Tehillim 58:11 that we quoted at the outset: “His footsteps he washed in the blood of the wicked one.” Here, David HaMelech speaks metaphorically of the defilement that occasionally comes upon a person without his knowledge as a result of the evil deeds of wicked men. David likens this defilement to the dirt that a person gets on his feet as he walks along. And he tells us that a person washes off this defilement in the blood of the wicked – that is, through participating in the punishment of the wicked man, he is cleansed of the defilement.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.