Mattos & Maasei – Always Watch Your Back and Your Friend’s Back

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This week is the double portion of Mattos and Maasei, and it also concludes Sefer Bamidbar. In Mattos we find the Jewish people waging battle against the Midianites out of revenge for causing 24,000 Jews to perish in sin at the end of Parshas Balak. They were victorious in battle and collected many spoils from the war. We actually learn the laws of kashering utensils from this portion because of all the utensils collected from the non-Jewish Midianites after the war. Hashem told Moshe, “Divide the spoils in half, between those who undertook the battle, who go out to the legions, and the entire assembly. You shall raise up a tribute to Hashem from the men of war who go out to the legion, one living being of 500, from the people, from the cattle, from the donkeys and from the flocks” (Bamidbar 31:27-28). When the leaders of the army approached Moshe, “They said to Moshe, ‘Your servants took a census of the men of war under our command, and not one man of us is missing. So we brought an offering to Hashem: what any man found of gold vessels, anklet and bracelet, ring, earring, clasp, to stone for our souls before Hashem” (Bamidbar 31:49-50).

 There is a very valuable lesson the Ralbag learned from here. “One who has received good from Hashem should recognize that good and thank Hashem for it because this will help not to forget Hashem. For this reason, the Torah tells us that the ministers of the 1000s and 100s donated a lot of gold vessels to Hashem for all the good He did for them, that not one person died in battle. For this reason also, Moshe required that they themselves bring all the gifts to the Tent of Meeting to leave it there for the incredible wonder that took place. For this reason also, Hashem commanded them to take a portion of the gifts to Hashem from the spoils to the Kohanim and Leviim to show them that all this incredible good came to them from Hashem and not due to their own power and strength.” 
(Click here for Hebrew text.)

 The leaders of the army felt humbled by the show of care and love that Hashem had for his children, and not one was killed or captured in the war with the Midianites. They had heartfelt gratitude towards Hashem for the miracles that had happened to them, so they felt a need to give back and to donate a chunk of the spoils to Hashem. The donations were publicized and placed at the entrance of the Ohel Moed (Tent of Meeting) to enhance the gratitude towards Hashem. Hashem felt it was important that He had to give part of the gifts to the Kohanim and Leviim just to humiliate them by giving away part of the gifts so that there was no room to think that they could give themselves credit for the victory. (Parenthetically an interesting concept comes from this that repackaging gifts and giving them to other people is an embarrassment to the first giver if they find out what you did, so you should be sensitive of that matter). But why did Hashem feel he had to humiliate these donors in this way? Weren’t they clearly showing that they attributed 100% of their success to Hashem?

It must be that there is always room for the trait of haughtiness to slip in and every angle must be taken to avoid it, without any excuse. Hashem felt personally responsible to do this and not leave it up to free choice, for the leaders to choose to work on themselves to stay humble, since He would be the cause of them feeling this haughtiness potentially.