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Prophecies Are Promises

The importance of keeping one’s word is one of the vital themes in Parashat Matot-Masei (Num. 30:2-36:13). There are complex and weighty laws governing the giving of a pledge or making an oath before the Creator. Those rules serve as a kind of preamble to the account of the tribes of Reuven and Gad pledging to Moses that they will join Israel’s conquest of the Promised Land and only then will they return to the other side of the Jordan River to Moab and settle “near Atarot and Djibon.”

The 22nd chapter of Joshua tells how the two tribes made good on their pledge. The same chapter also describes how the tribes of Gad, Reuven and the half-tribe of Manasseh built an altar, on the banks of the Jordan. The other tribes misconstrued the altar as place for worshipping other gods and took up arms to fight Gad and Reuven. But disaster was averted when they told the other tribes that the altar was not for offerings but only built as a reminder of their common heritage with the tribes who settled in eretz Israel.

We have archaeological evidence of Gad and Reuven settling in ancient Moab as described in this Torah Parsha as seen on the Mesha Stele, discovered in Jordan (ancient Moab) in 1868. The artifact records the rebellion of the Moabite King Mesha (see 2nd Kings 3:4). But the same inscription also states that, “The men of Gad lived in the land of Atarot from ancient times.”

Also, in this double Torah portion, the borders of eretz Israel are defined, clearly demonstrating the vital importance of national boundaries. These borders of eretz Israel are described in at least three places within the Torah and each description varies, based on the function of those boundaries, for example some verses allow for prophetic expansion of Israel. In Parashat Mattot Matot-Masei (Num. 30:2-36:13), this "deed" also serves as a reality check; they are entering a very real place as they depart the womb of Divine protection inside the Clouds of Glory to inhabit an expanse of real estate promised to them four-hundred seventy years before.

The Jewish people are eternal beneficiaries of a Divine promise made and a Divine promise kept. Living in eretz Israel defines the Jews as a nation whose very existence is the ultimate reality check for the world. It's also fulfillment of promises transmitted by HaShem through prophets such as Zechariah 8:8: “And I will bring them, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; and they shall be My people and I shall be their God, in truth and in righteousness."

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