Parashat Mattot

Some Messages Are Hard To Deliver

The severity of the war against the Midianites should motivate us to examine our own behavior and root out our own forms of idolatry.

Print this page Print this page

Let us focus on one reason for this utter revenge against the Midianites. The justification offered suggests that the nature of the actions of the Midianites was so gross and terrible that the punishment fit the crime. The Midianites sent their women to seduce the Hebrews sexually and to encourage idolatry. In this case, the Israelites were not taught to behave in the just or kind manner that we would consider to be in keeping with our tradition.

But perhaps we are not meant to examine the literal meaning of this story and its depiction of the Israelites. Rather, the story here is meant to warn successive generations of Jews to watch their own idolatrous behavior. It says: Beware, look what happened to the Midianites on account of their horrendous behavior. Beware, if you follow the ways of the idolaters, this can also happen to you. In other words, the passage presents a consequence for behavior. That is precisely what Seeskin is saying: God is the only entity in the universe worthy of worship, and the consequences of following idolatrous paths are disastrous.

In this case, the massacre of the Midianites was a disturbing way in which to communicate the above message and to warn the people about their behavior. The prophets also did not have an easy task when it came to warning the people about their behavior. But we need to hear the powerful messages that are being conveyed to us through the Torah, the prophets, modern authors and scientists, our doctors, our therapists, our own physical symptoms, and our families.

In order for us to improve our world, this week’s Torah portion guides us to think about several things: We must consider the consequences of our behaviors. We must think about what type of revenge in our time will help us attain a higher level. Finally, we must remain sensitive to the warnings and messages we receive each day and must make lifestyle modifications accordingly. After all, we are here to improve our world. Mattot seems to be saying: Wake up and pay attention to your own behavior; don’t just think about the behavior of the Midianites. But some messages are hard to deliver. After all, idolatry is a universal modern phenomenon.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Alan J. Levin

Alan Levin is the Regional Educator for the Great Lakes Council of the Union for Reform Judaism