In the first of this week’s two action-packed portions, Moses teaches the rules and restrictions governing oaths and vows. Promises are serious business. When we say that we plan to do something — even something as simple as, “I’ll call you later” — we’re bound by our words. Anticipating entrance into the land of Israel, the tribes of Gad and Reuben petition Moses to remain on the eastern side of the Jordan River because that land is particularly suitable for grazing their cattle. Moses, not wanting to ‘steer’ Gad and Reuben wrong, grants their request on the condition that they first help the rest of the nation in conquering the entire land of Israel before returning to settle their inheritance.
Masei (a word that means ‘journeys’) begins with a listing of the 42 encampments of the
Jewish people’s 40-year journey from the Exodus until the crossing of the Jordan River into
the Land of Israel. The boundaries of the Land of Israel are defined. Since the Levites would
not be receiving a regular portion of the land, 48 cities are set aside for them. Cities of refuge
are established; one who unintentionally murders can flee there. So ends the book of
Numbers, the fourth of the Books of the Torah. Next week — on to Deuteronomy!