Mattot , meaning ‘tribes’ in Hebrew is the 42nd Torah portion of the annual cycle of readings and is generally read in July or ‘Tammuz’. The Hebrew calendar, which is luni-solar, indicating both the phases of the moon and the solar year, has up to 54 weeks to account for both leap and regular years. In years with 54 weeks, parashah Mattot is read separately; otherwise it is read with Parashah Ma’asei that follows. Since the art and commentary for this parashah was completed in 2008, a year that contains 54 weeks, Parashah Mattot appears separately in Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009) Here is a part of the commentary from the AfterImages section on pages 174-175.
Wading through the census, the war against Midian and tribal politics, the theme of this parashah that most intrigued me focused on the importance of words and the innate creative energies attributed to the letters that compose them. A portion of the Sefer Yetzirah teaches that G-d worked through these divine energies of the alphabet (alefbet) to bring the world into existence and according to Sefer Toldot Yaakov Yosef 29, continues to do so, building new realities. The configurations of Hebrew letters between the figures and behind them illustrate letter permutations, the ‘worlds within worlds’ concept suggested in Sefer Yetzirah. 30 “Twenty-two foundation letters. He engraved them, He carved them, He permuted them, He weighed them, He transformed them, and with them, He depicted all that was formed and all that would be formed.”As God’s creations, we have been endowed with partnership in this process, making us holy vessels responsible for every word we speak and for events we craft through them. This idea is the basis for Words Of Worlds in which a man and woman exchange vows with each other and with an angel because Parashah Mattot opens with the command that we are to fulfill each oath we make and that oaths cannot be broken unless exonerated by another person. When we make an oath with each other, we also make it with God, creating new realities in partnership.31
Given the present state of our embattled world with it’s deadly mix of natural and unnatural disasters, this week’s Parashah Mattot seems peculiarly relevant.