Mattos and Massei – How To Say Goodbye

This week’s double Torah portions of Mattos and Massei conclude the Book of Bamidbar. The Ramban discusses the juxtaposition between these two Torah portion(s)s. There are a couple of events in Mattos, such as the battle against Midian and the division of the land of Sichon and Og amongst the two-and-a-half tribes of Reuvain, Gad and half of Menashe. The beginning of Massei discusses the travels and stops made by the Jewish people in the desert.
The Ramban explains: “After revenge against Midian, where Hashem said to Moshe that after this ‘you will be gathered into your nation’, [i.e. he was decreed to pass away after defeating Midian (Bamidbar 31:2),] and after he split up the land of Sichon and Og and built the cities that were mentioned [at the end of the Torah Portion], he [Moshe] thought about writing up all the travels. His intention was to inform everyone about all the kindness Hashem did with them, that even though it was decreed upon them that they will be traveling and wandering through the desert, don’t think they were constantly traveling and wandering through the desert and they didn’t have any respite. Rather in this long span of time they only traveled to 42 places as Rashi writes in the name of Rebbi Moshe HaDarshan.” (Click here for Hebrew text)
One can ask a simple question on this Ramban: What is the connection between the last two major events of Moshe’s life and the travels of the Jewish People throughout there forty years of wondering in the desert?

The Ramban seems to be pointing out a very important lesson in relationships. The Medrish says everyone knew Moshe would pass away after revenging Midian. The Baal HaTurim says Moshe’s death was contingent on the revenge of Midian because he himself did not act zealously to stop the episode with Zimri the head of the Tribe of Shimon and Cozbi the Midianite Princess which subsequesntly resulted in 24,000 Jews dying. The events of revenging Midian and splitting the land of Sichon and Og amongst the two and a half tribes of Reuvain, Gad and half of Menashe were pretty much the last in Moshe’s life. He realized that he had to part ways from his people and that it would not be so easy for them to part. At the moment of that realization, he felt that in order to ease the process of saying goodbye it would be appropriate to mention all the good times, the positive events they went through together in the desert. This would make closure easier for everyone.

This lesson is true in all situations in when one will be leaving and not seeing someone for a while; not only in the event of death, and not only with a leader and his followers – but if one visits family and then must go back home or visits friends who they won’t see again for a long while, it is hard to say goodbye when the trip is over, or the visit is done. In order to make it easier for everyone it would seem appropriate to recap the events of the trip and remind each other about all the good times that were had.

The fact the Ramban points this out seems to indicate that it is not just a nice or cute thing to do, but is mentchlikeit, or the derech eretz way to act. This means that proper manners dictate that one should be sensitive towards the feelings of others, and try to ease the sad feeling of leaving as best as possible.

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