Blushing Like Fire

Doesn't anyone blush anymore? As believers and disciples of Messiah, we need to strive to recapture innocence.

(Image © Bigstock/hannadarzy)


Regular Shabbat Readings

Read / Listen to these Portions

  • Mattot-Massei (מטות-מסעי | Tribes-Journeys)
  • Torah: Numbers 30:2-36:13
  • Haftarah: Jeremiah 2:4-28, 3:4
  • Gospel: Luke 13:1-9; Mark 11:12-23

Note: The regular readings are often interrupted with special readings on Jewish holidays, special Sabbaths, and Rosh Chodesh. Refer to the annual Torah Portion schedule for these special portions.

Portion Outline

  • Torah
    • Numbers 30:1 | Vows Made by Women
    • Numbers 31:1 | War against Midian
    • Numbers 31:13 | Return from the War
    • Numbers 31:25 | Disposition of Captives and Booty
    • Numbers 32:1 | Conquest and Division of Transjordan
    • Numbers 33:1 | The Stages of Israel's Journey from Egypt
    • Numbers 33:50 | Directions for the Conquest of Canaan
    • Numbers 34:1 | The Boundaries of the Land
    • Numbers 34:16 | Tribal Leaders
    • Numbers 35:1 | Cities for the Levites
    • Numbers 35:9 | Cities of Refuge
    • Numbers 35:16 | Concerning Murder and Blood Revenge
    • Numbers 36:1 | Marriage of Female Heirs
  • Prophets
    • Jer 2:4 | God Pleads with Israel to Repent

Portion Summary


The name of the forty-second reading from the Torah is Mattot (מטות), which means "tribes." The name is derived from the words of Numbers 30:1, which says, "Then Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the sons of Israel." Numbers 30 discusses the laws of vows and oaths. Numbers 31 tells the story of Israel's war with Midian. Numbers 32 relates the story of how the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Mannaseh came to inherit the land east of the Jordan River. Except in biblical calendar leap years, Mattot is read together with the subsequent Torah portion, Massei, on the same Sabbath.


The last reading from the book of Numbers is called Massei (מסעי), a word that means "journeys." It comes from the first verse of the reading, which begins with the words "These are the journeys of the sons of Israel" (Numbers 33:1). Massei is the end of the continuous narrative of Torah that began in Genesis with the creation of the universe. The narrative does not resume until the end of Deuteronomy, when Moses dies.

The final reading in Numbers settles several last-minute details. In it we find a list of the encampments from Egypt to the plains of Moab. We also find instructions for apportioning the land, as well as the specifics regarding the borders of the land. While explaining the land and its borders, Moses introduces the laws of the cities of refuge and more inheritance laws. In most years, synagogues read Massei together with the preceding portion, Mattot, which accounts for the brevity of this portion's commentary.

Kill every woman who has known man intimately. But all the girls who have not known man intimately, spare for yourselves. (Numbers 31:17-18)

The women were put to death for their role in leading Israel into idolatry. The boys were put to death to prevent them from growing into men who would seek vengeance. The virgin women of the Midianites were spared.

In my opinion, the execution of those defenseless prisoners presents an irreconcilable moral problem. Ironically, the revulsion I feel at the thought of the Israelites putting women and children to death comes as a result of an ethical worldview that was originally derived from the Torah and the Scriptures of Israel. The pagan world of that day and age would have had little compunction over the atrocity. We have inherited and cultivated an ethical worldview that originally sprang from the soil of Torah, grew in the prophets, and bore fruit in the gospel.

But how did the Israelites know if a girl was a virgin or not?

According to one midrashic folktale, they would pass each girl in front of the high priest Eleazar while he was wearing the golden miter on his forehead on which the name of God was written. If the woman was not a virgin, when she saw the high priest with the words “Holy to the LORD” engraved on his golden crown, her face would grow pale. If she was a virgin, she’d blush a fiery red. The pale face indicated that she had participated in the plot to seduce Israel; the blushing face indicated that she was innocent.

This may not be what really happened, but it teaches us something about the beauty of innocence. We live in a culture that has discarded that virtue. At a young age, children are exposed to sensual images in entertainment and media. Sexuality is constantly flaunted in front of our eyes. The culture has lost all sense of modesty and decency in dress. “Having become callous, [they] have given themselves over to sensuality” (Ephesians 4:19). No subject seems too vulgar or shameful for the comedians and entertainers of today. Yesterday’s taboos are today’s fads. All of it contributes to an increasingly brazen culture where nothing is shocking and everything is permissible. As a society we have lost the ability to blush.

As believers and disciples of Messiah, we need to strive to recapture innocence.

“Immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and [foolish] talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks” (Ephesians 5:3-4).

The fact that we feel uncomfortable with the Torah’s story of Moses and the Israelites putting the women and children of Midian to death indicates that we have internalized the spirit of the Torah. We must recover our innocence and protect the innocence of our children. We need to learn to blush again that we might not grow pale before the Name of God.

Adapted From: Torah Club Commentary Set: Unrolling the Scroll. Learn more about Torah Club and how you can start a Club of your own, or join a Torah Club in your area. Visit TORAHCLUB.ORG

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This coming year Torah Clubs are studying the Gospels from a Messianic Jewish perspective. Club members will encounter Yeshua of Nazareth in his Jewish context. Discover the historical and cultural backdrops of the gospels and be amazed as the teachings of Yeshua snap into focus and clarity. Unravel his difficult words and parables; study Jewish parallels to his teachings; and ultimately know Jesus better.



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