In Parashat Mattot the word matteh is used in place of the more commonly found shevet? Why is that? They both mean tribes no?

  • 1
    Both words also mean "stick". I don't know, yet, if there's a relationship between these 2 words. Need to research.
    – DanF
    Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 19:41
  • 2
    I heard in the name of one of the rebbes of Lubavitch (I forget which) that a mate is a branch, supple and fresh, whereas a shevet is a staff, old and hard. (Or maybe vice versa. I forget.) The tribes of Jews are called both because sometimes we need to be supple, bending to our environment (e.g. to take lessons from others), and sometimes hard and intransigent. Or something like that, anyway. He also explained why mate is used here (Matos) specifically, but I forget that part of it, which is part of why I'm not posting this as an answer.
    – msh210
    Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 19:44
  • 1
    @msh210 - "Mateh" is related to "Noteh". meaning "to bend". So, your explanation makes much sense. I'm giving you 1st dibs on trying to connect your (and, if you want, mine) into an answer. Dig further :-)
    – DanF
    Commented Jul 31, 2014 at 14:42
  • @msh210 - I think it's the other way around: a mateh is a staff, old and hard, and a shevet is a branch.
    – ezra
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 3:08
  • @msh210 likutey sichos page 194. Shevet is moist and is attached to the moisture/nurture of the roots, correlating to when us jews are close to Hashem and keeping his ways properly. Matte is dried and becomes harder. When we go through tribulations it makes us stronger. This is used for when we aren't 100% following hashem.
    – Mord18
    Commented Jul 29, 2022 at 7:28

3 Answers 3


Both words mean stick or rod, as in Ishaya 28:27 כי במטה יחבט קצח וכמון בשבט. The one strikes harder than the other according to flexibility. The word שבט designates a tribe, whilst the word מטה is the pole that identifies the שבט because each tribe has its identifying flag, sign and/or name engraved on it. Consequently, in Parashat Mattot, the tribes are called מטות because that is the way they camped in the desert, each tribe around its identifying pole.

  • 1
    Do you have a source for "The one strikes harder than the other according to flexibility."?
    – WAF
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 13:00

Rav Hirsch writes on Bamidbar (30:2) at the beginning of the Mattos,

The Torah enables individuals, communities, and the entire nation to establish for themselves permanent norms for ensuring the faithful observance of the mitzvos. For this reason this section is addressed particularly to the nesi'im who significantly are here called Roshei Matos. As already noted in our commentary on chapter 1, "matteh" conceives of the tribe as a branch of the larger whole, with each branch working through its own unique characteristics to carry out the mission shared in common by the entire nation. It was the task of the roshei hamattos to attend to the customs arising from the individuality of each branch, and to attend also to common activities, aspirations, and purposes. It was their responsibility to properly channel all of these to promote the fulfillment of the national mission in accordance with the unique characteristics of each branch. The means for such activity, the prerequisite for the development of the nation as a whole and for communal life is the binding force of vows and of regulations instituted by man which is was the laws that now follow deal with. In addition, roshei hamattos are entrusted with hataras nedarim. They function as family counselors and spiritual advisors coming from among the people themselves. It is for this reason too that the section on vows in addressed first to roshei hamattos.

On the other hand, Rav Hirsch (Bamidbar 18:2) writes,

מטה is the horizontal direction which looks on the tribe as a branch of the basic stem, accordingly being on a line with the other tribes, so being excluded from the actual priestly service and would only be allowed to be allocated to assist at subsidiary offices. שבט is the tribe as an independent stem, 'stave', hence the word itself is an expression of strength and power, as a rule is the designation of the tribes of Israel in their independent strength and value - שבטי ישראל not מטות ישראל. So that שבט אביך is the tribe in which your father lives on in his specialty, your father who subscribes such an important quota to the Jewish national body, the tribe that by its unreserved devotion to the cause of God showed itself as the born guard of the Sanctuary. As שבט אביך, the Levites received their position and mission towards the people, which was represented by the guard of their camp round the Sanctuary in the wilderness, which belongs to the משמרת אהל מועד.

In these succinct words from Rav Yaakov Beasely:

The term "shevet" connotes power and authority. However, the word "matteh," staff, is essentially a support (from the Hebrew root n-t-h). In the context of a describing a group, it connotes mutual aid and sustenance.

  • Contrasting this with a relevant passage from Rav Hirsch explaining the distinctive meaning of shevet would improve the answer greatly.
    – WAF
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 12:59

The Rebbe in one of his sichas (Shabbos Parshas Mattos-Maasei , 28th Tammuz, 5747) explains that the word mattos emphasizes the attribute of power and rigidity. The two words “mateh” and “shevet” both mean a “staff”.

The two words “mateh” and “shevet” both mean a “staff” (and are both used for “tribe”). Yet there is a subtle difference between a pliable branch (shevet) and a strong staff (mateh). Thus, “Mattos” symbolizes that a Jew must be firm and strong — not bending even a hairsbreadth when it comes to principles of Yiddishkeit, Torah and mitzvos.

This is congruous with the Mishnaic dictum to be as careful in fulfilling a minor mitzvah as a major mitzvah — for when a Jew is truly connected to G‑d and wants to fulfill the will of the King there will be no difference between minor and major, since G‑d has commanded the mitzvos and desires that all of them be carried out.

The Rebbe continues:

When “Mattos” and “Maasei” are combined the strength of “Mattos” takes on the progressive movement of “Maasei” so that steadfastness and strength grows stronger and stronger.

At the same time the steady growth in matters of holiness attains an aspect of strength and even those aspects of Jewish life which represent only custom or greater piety are also invigorated and empowered. So that all aspects of Shabbos Mevarchim Menachem Av are enhanced and invigorated.

May the final “move” come speedily, and bring us to the Holy Land with the true and complete redemption through our righteous Mashiach. Then we will no longer be obligated to request favors of patronizing gentile nations for we will live freely in our land under the rule of the Jewish monarchy.

To speed this we must increase our activities in Torah and mitzvos, including our fervent plea for salvation: “Speedily cause the scion of Dovid Your servant to flourish...,” and, as we say in the prayer also on Shabbos and Yom Tov: “May our eyes behold Your return to Tziyon in mercy.”

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .