Parshat Matot: A plain (brutal) truth

Matot opens with God’s vengeance against Midian, an avowed enemy of the Israelites which had joined Balak, king of Moab, in hiring Balaam to curse Israel. The Midianites also seduced Israelites into having sex with their women and engaging in idolatrous, orgiastic worship of the Midianite gods. Israel was therefore enjoined to make a preemptive strike against a nation which had demonstrated its desire to see Israel vanquished.

The Torah goes on to record Moses’s insistence that the young Midianite women fit for sexual relations be killed, and along with them the young male, Midianite children. How difficult is all this carnage to the modern ear? How can we possibly justify such action, even if it was against a nation which had already lifted its banner on behalf of Israel’s disappearance?

What we must remember as we read the Torah is that we are studying a text which we believe was written more than 4,000 years ago, in the earliest era of recorded history. Yes, we also believe the text is God-given, but it was never intended that every verse be applied to every generation.


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