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Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Pinchas Mattos-Masei – Numbers 30:2-36:13

“It’s good to be king” is a line from Mel Brooks’s movie History of the World, Part 1. It’s also a lyric and song title from Tom Petty’s 1994 Wildflowers album. Both rhapsodize about the joys of holding sovereign power. A king’s life seems idyllic. He answers to no one, except the Almighty. But parshas Mattos-Masei points out the downside of supreme authority:

“For in the City of Refuge he will dwell until the death of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest)…” (Numbers/Bamidbar 35:28)

Do You Really Want to Be the Sovereign-

This Sabbath’s double parsha begins with Mattos. It discusses how to take a vow. Next the Israelites go to war against Midian. In the aftermath they learn how to make utensils kosher. Then the tribes of Rueben, Gad, and half of Manasheh ask to have their portion of the land on the eastern side of the Jordan River.

The second parsha, Masei, reviews the journey taken by the Israelites from Egypt through the wilderness, ending at the border of the land of Israel. Then it gives instructions on how to divide the land and designate cities for the Levites and Cities of Refuge. It ends by designating who is eligible to seek safe harbor in them.

The Drawback of Being the High Priest

Few people have ever received the adulation of Aaron, the first High Priest. The Israelites loved him, especially for his ability to make peace between them. They esteemed the High Priests from Elazar, Aaron’s son, to Shimon HaTzadik. Aside from the arduousness of their duties, it seems being the High Priest was a pleasant job.

But if someone unintentionally killed another person, the High Priest’s life lost some of its luster. The killer could avoid being killed in revenge by the redeemer of the blood. He had to seek sanctuary in a City of Refuge. Once confirmed by the court, he lived there until the High Priest died.

What did the High Priest have to do with an unintended death? A person killed unintentionally reflected a lack of morality on the part of the Israelites. As the supreme moral authority, the High Priest bore responsibility. If he had been setting the proper example the death would not have happened. So he had to live knowing the killer was praying for his death so he could leave the City of Refuge.

Imagine more than one killer living out his days in sanctuary. This was not the discomfort you may experience knowing Islamofacists want to murder Westerners. It was directed specifically at him. How must he have felt knowing specific individuals and their family members prayed constantly that he would die?

How Do You Handle Being a Sovereign?

You may not realize it, but if you’re an American citizen you’re a sovereign. Not an absolute monarch like a king or queen, but part of the corporate body that holds ultimate power in the United States. The Constitution delegates authority to act on our behalf to the president, congress, and the Supreme Court. But they are agents. They do not remove sovereignty from us.

Over the years I’ve heard various people say, “He’s not my president.” They’re wrong. Like it or not, the people elected to exercise the power of their offices act on behalf of all citizens.

You may be among the many people disturbed by the choices for president. You may have pledged not to vote for one or both candidates. Certainly you have the free will to do so. Though it is the duty of a citizen to vote you can refuse.

But you still bear your responsibility as a sovereign.

You need not die to escape it. But you’ll have to terminate your citizenship to avoid it.

At times the High Priest led a burdensome life. Such is the nature of supreme authority. In some ways the load is as heavy for an American citizen.

How will you deal with being the sovereign? Please comment below.


Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. It is named after the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

What verse in the Old Testament would you like to know more about? Ask a question and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

© , Kevin S. Bemel, All Rights Reserved

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