So Moses said to the people, "Arm some of your men to go to war against the Midianites so that they may carry out the LORD's vengeance on them." Numbers 31:3
The Torah portion for this week is a double reading, Matot-Massei, from Numbers 30:2-36:13. Matot means branches and Massei means journey. The Haftorah is from Jeremiah 2:4-28; 4:1-2.
It's unclear who said the following wise words, but their veracity is uncontested: "Watch your thoughts, they become words. Watch your words, they become actions. Watch your actions, they become habits. Watch your habits, they become your character. Watch your character, it becomes your destiny." There are so many lessons in these words, but the overall idea is that thoughts ultimately determine our destiny.
In this week's Torah reading, God commanded Moses to "Arm some of your men to go to war against the Midianites . . . " The Jewish sages note that the Hebrew word used for "Arm" is a strange choice. It's not the most commonly used word to explain what Moses expected the Israelites to do; several other words would have been a more suitable choice.
In addition, the Hebrew word chosen in the verse, heichaltzu, can mean "to arm one's self," but it can also mean "to remove from one's self." In fact, later on in the Bible, in Deuteronomy 25:9, the same basic word is used to mean to "take off." So what was Moses telling the people to do? To put something on (armor) or to take something off?
The sages answer that Moses was commanding both actions. Yes, the people were instructed to arm themselves physically for war. However, on a spiritual level, Moses directed the people to remove any thoughts of personal honor or glory and to think only about the honor of God.
I think that this is a relevant message to all of us who "go out to battle" every day of our lives. Whatever we are working toward needs to be for God's glory, not our own.
I would also take this idea one step further. What other thoughts might we remove as we go out into the world every day? What other thoughts are inappropriate or hold us back from becoming our very best?
We have all been called negative things at some time in our lives. It might have been a teacher, a friend, or an angry parent who called us something bad in the heat of the moment. Sometimes these thoughts take root and grow with us in our lives. Even though these thoughts and labels may be far from true, if we accept them, they can determine our destiny.
I want to challenge us today to remove any negative thoughts from our beings. Let's remove thoughts of pride and arrogance. Let's also take off any labels that don't belong to us and instead arm ourselves with thoughts like "I am a wondrous child of God" and "With God I can do anything."