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    Gathered to one’s people – Mattot

    Moses is told (Num. 31:1) to avenge the Israelite grievance against the Midianites and then “be gathered to your people”.

    The reference is obviously to death but it is articulated gently. The text does not say bluntly “you shall die” but it uses a softer phrase, “you shall be gathered to your people”.

    Throughout the ages people have used euphemisms about death. A typical example is “he passed away”.

    We understand why the preference for gentle language, but why the phrase “to be gathered to one’s people”?

    It originates in Gen 25:8, in relation to Abraham. Sforno says on that passage in Genesis that “people” is not necessarily to be understood in an ethnic sense. It is not a reference to one’s tribe or nation, but to their ethics and character. The word “people” in this context means one’s righteous ancestors.

    The person who dies after a good, upright life is metaphorically enrolled in the historical record of the righteous.

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