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“Take an accounting of the booty…”

  • RabbiRyanGoldstein
In this week’s Parsha, Matot, Hashem commands the Jewish people to avenge the spiritual destruction that was wreaked on the Jewish men with the Midyan idolatrous prostitution ring. This was part of Bilaam’s evil plan to destroy us internally when he failed to curse us.
by Rabbi Ryan Goldstein, West Street Shul | Jul 12, 2018

We are a nation that has its power in the fact that we guard ourselves from immorality. Bilaam knew this and he knew, therefore, exactly how to weaken us.

Moav and Midyan were eternal enemies, but out of their hatred for the Jewish people they came together to form a truce. It should be noted that only Midyan was taken to task. Moav has always been protected because of their ancestor Lot’s devotion to Abraham, his uncle.

After the battle and the almost total annihilation of the Midyan camp, Moshe instructs the future accountants of the Jewish nation to make an exact audit of the spoils and the booty that was retrieved from the war.

I have always found these verses fascinating. Besides for them being the halachik source of the Biblical mitzvah of kashering vessels from treif to kosher, one can learn a very profound lesson from them. Moshe calls for the said audit to ensure that not one item was misappropriated by anyone, especially himself.

Now isn’t this crazy? Surely Moshe Rabbeinu is beyond all suspicion? Was it not a few weeks ago, during the skirmish with Korach and his rabble, that Moshe said: “I have never taken a single donkey from theirs, nor have I wronged any of them”? Moshe, who tangibly felt Hashem’s presence around him at all times, would never succumb to petty theft.

We find a similar situation in Parshas Pekudei, where Moshe does an exact tally of all the silver half shekels and how they were used in the silver vessels and foundation blocks of the Mishkan. What’s with all this suspicion?

The answer and lesson here is so significant. The Torah is telling us that no matter who we are, no matter our station in the community, we can never be beyond suspicion.

We have to go out of our way to be transparent. We have to divest ourselves of the attitude of “I don’t care what others think of me! As long as I know that I am doing the right thing.” Moshe is teaching us to always care and not put ourselves in questionable situations.

From here we learn the relevance of Marit Ayin and Tihu Nekiim. A Jew has to be beyond reproach, not only in the eyes of Hashem, but in the eyes of man as well.

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