Matot | פרשת מטות

Bamidbar 30:2-32:42 [HebCal] [על-התורה] במדבר ל ב-לב מב

Haftarah: Yirmiyahu 1:1-2:31 Parashat Matot is usually paired with Masei,2 in which case the haftarah for Masei, is read, unless it is Rosh Chodesh

הפטרה: ירמיהו א א-ב ג (ספרדים ואשכנזים) | ירמיהו א א-א יט (תימנים)3 | כשפרשת מטות נקראת יחד עם פרשת מסעי, הפטרת מסעי נקראת, אלא אם כן זהו ראש חודש [על-התורה]

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Parashat Matot continues Moshe’s parting speeches preceding Bnei Yisrael’s crossing the Yarden (Jordan River) into Eretz Yisrael. Immediately before Matot, Parashat Pinchas concludes with the details of the korbanot for daily, time-related, and annual events. In turn, Matot opens with a section of law concerning oaths and vows. Following that is an account of the military campaign against Midian, in which Moshe is troubled by the leniency shown to the Midianites by Israelite soldiers.

Then, there is the request put forth by the tribes of Reuven and Gad, who raised cattle, to settle in the lands to the East of the Yarden that Bnei Yisrael had recently conquered there. They are later joined by half the tribe of Menashe, as well. Initially, Moshe is concerned that these two and a half tribes are asking this because they intend to shirk their duty to conquer Eretz Yisrael, but when the heads of those tribes assure him that that is not their intention and pledge to fight alongside the rest of Bnei Yisrael, only after the conquest returning to their homes, Moshe agrees.

Laws of Oaths and Vows

[Bamidbar 30:2-17]

Although the specific case of the vow (neder) of a nazir has been previously addressed in Bamidbar 6:2-8, here for the first time are received the laws of vows (nedarim) and oaths (shevuot), which are categorically distinct.4 The Torah makes a differentiation between vows based on the nature of the vow and who makes it. It begins with the case of a man (specifically, a man) who vows to take upon himself a prohibition (issur), whose vow is then binding. Then there is the case of a minor woman, whose vow of issur is binding given the consent of her father or, if she marries, her husband; if the father objects, or if she is married and her husband objects, the vow is negated. This is in contrast to the case of the widowed or divorced woman, whose vow is binding.

The Campaign against Midian

[Bamidbar 31:1-54]

G-d then tells Moshe that before he passes away, he is to wage battle against the Midianites.5. He is told to take a thousand (elef) from each tribe, 12,000 in total. They take the field and kill the five kings of Midian: Evi (אֱוִי), Rekem (רֶקֶם), Tzur (צוּר), Chur (חוּר), and Reva (רֶבַע). At this juncture it is noted also that they killed Bilaam, by the sword. The destruction wrought on Midian is striking: their cities are looted and burned, and the women and children taken captive. And yet, when the soldiers return to the encampment of Benei Yisrael in the plains of Moav on the East bank of the Yarden, Moshe becomes angry that they spared the women, who had previously involved Benei Yisrael in the sin of Baal Peor. He orders that they put to death any woman who has had relations with a man.

At this juncture, any soldier or captive—anyone—who has had contact with a corpse must quarantine outside the encampment for 7 days, as well as cleansing any article of clothing or object they had come into contact with. Objects that can withstand fire are cleansed by fire and water, those that cannot, by water alone. The looted items are then inventoried and distributed, with portions of each distribution earmarked for Elazar the kohen and for the Levites.6 The officers then approach Moshe and in appreciation for their being spared, give an offering (korban) of gold from their distribution of the wealth, which is accepted.

The Request of the Two and a Half Tribes

[Bamidbar 32:1-42]

The tribes of Reuven and Gad were cattle herders, and they approach Moshe, Elazar the Kohen, and the leaders (nesiim) of the community with a request: the lands conquered East of the Yarden River, the territories formerly ruled by Sichon the king of the Amorites and Og the king of Bashan, are good lands for grazing cattle, and they would like to receive their apportionment of the promised land there. Moshe is initially disturbed by this request, reminding Reuven and Gad of the Meraglim who subverted Benei Yisrael’s will to enter the Land. In fact, he retells the story of this event and its consequences here: the entire generation was barred from entering the Land and consigned to wander in the wilderness for 40 years.

In response, Gad and Reuven pledge that after establishing basic settlements for their families and flocks, they will join the rest of Benei Yisrael in crossing the Yarden and conquering the Land. Moshe agrees, and disseminates the information about the plan. The two tribes are then joined by half the tribe of Menashe, making a total of two and a half tribes who receive their holdings on the East of the Yarden. They proceed to rebuild the destroyed cities there as their own. The sons of Machir of Menashe also conquer the Gilad, another stronghold of the Amorites, which is given to them, as well as areas conquered by Menashe.

Haftarah Summary: דברי ירמיהו

[Yirmiyahu 1:1-2:3]

This haftarah covers the beginning of Yirmiyahu’s prophecy. We are told that Yirmiyahu was a kohen and that he prophesied in the days of King Yehoyakim of Yehuda until the eleventh year of the reign of Chizkiyahu, when the population Yerushalayim was exiled in the fifth month of that year (i.e., Av). Thus, Yirmiyahu is immediately marked as a prophet who lived through the destruction of the first Beit ha-Mikdash and the subsequent exile to Bavel.

Yirmiyahu is initially hesitant to take on the mantle of prophecy, stating that he is just a youth (naar – נער). However, G-d proves to him that he has the power of prophecy through a series of visions that Yirmiyahu ably interprets. Yirmiyahu then begins his first prophecy to the people.

G-d’s reassurance to Yirmiyahu includes the stirring words (1:5):

בְּטֶ֨רֶם אצורך [אֶצָּרְךָ֤] בַבֶּ֙טֶן֙ יְדַעְתִּ֔יךָ וּבְטֶ֛רֶם תֵּצֵ֥א מֵרֶ֖חֶם הִקְדַּשְׁתִּ֑יךָ נָבִ֥יא לַגּוֹיִ֖ם נְתַתִּֽיךָ

Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you; before you were born, I consecrated you, giving you as a prophet to the nations.

Image: Map of the apportionment of the Land of Israel among the tribes. Christian van Adrichom, Dutch, 1533-1585, Situs Terrae Promissionis SS Bibliorum intelligentiam exacte aperiens. Hand colored engraving, ca. 1585, from Theatrum Terrae Sanctae et Biblicarum Historiarum (Cologne: Officina Birkmanica, 1590). Collection of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Gift of Adam Mekler in honor of Ariel Gabriella Mekler.


  1. This haftarah is always read on the first Shabbat of the Three Weeks, which is most commonly Parashat Pinchas. On the rare occasion that Matot occurs alone after the fast of 17 Tammuz (i.e., on the first Shabbat of the Three Weeks), this haftarah is then read following Matot.
  2. With the exception of leap years when Rosh Hashana falls out on a Thursday, in which case Adar Alef will have five Shabbatot, creating enough Shabbatot over the year to separate these two parshiyot; or, on leap years in Israel when the last day of Pesach falls out on Friday, meaning that the Shabbat following is a regular Shabbat in Israel, so that a regular parsha, in this case the separate Matot, is read, while that same Shabbat is Yom Tov outside of Israel, with special readings. As Matot-Masei, it is one of the longest Torah readings.
  3. בשנים שפרשת מטות נקראת בנפרד מפרשת מסעי, קוראים את ההפטרה זו, הראשונה של בין המצרים
  4. As such, these three topics, nedarim, shevuot, and nazir are the subject of three separate tractates of the Talmud by those names, and, interestingly, are conceptualized differently, with Nedarim and Nazir in Seder Nashim while Shevuot is in Seder Nezikin.
  5. In the northwest Arabian peninsula, to the East of the Red Sea; see map here (Hebrew) or the English version.
  6. See verses 31:32-47 for the detailed accounting.

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