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Mattot-Masei
               Numbers 30:2-36:13       Haftorah: Jeremiah 2:4-28, 3:4, 4:1-2
Shabbat, July 29, 2000 - 26 Tamuz 5760

Torah Outreach Program                                            More Torah commentary

Mattot

Moshe speaks to the tribal heads of the Children of Israel, to say (to the Jews): “This is what God has ordered (you to oversee): When a man vows a vow to God, or swears an oath to forbid something to himself--he shall not profane his word; he shall act in accord with all that left his mouth (Num. 30:2-3)”. Moshe now teaches the laws of vows, reflecting the sanctity of speech, for the first time. Why now, pure vow?

Facing imminent death, Moshe’s prime concern is that others continue his life’s work with Israel-- his major roles, teacher and king, were just assumed by Yehoshua. But, as chief rabbi, he could also annul rash vows; the tribal heads were now to take over this function, according to the Biblical commentary Abarbanel. Moreover, last week’s reading closed with the laws of pledges of voluntary sacrifices (29:39); such vows must be fulfilled by the 3rd ensuing holiday, and that the vower’s “word” is “profaned” if he doesn’t meet this deadline, according to another commentary, Rashbam.

The commentary Ibn Ezra, like Rashi, denies that the Torah is written in chronological order, and claims that the subsequent request of the 2½ tribes to settle in the conquered TransJordanian lands (east of the Jordan river) preceded this section on vows; Moshe, therefore, made them vow to lead Israel in battle, and now stresses the importance of keeping such vows.

According to the commentary Ma’am Loaz, the Torah juxtaposes vows to the preceding Sukkot holiday offerings, to teach that vows are only proper as a means to acquire self-control, e.g., amid the Sukkot harvest’s rejoicing and drinking, liable to engender intoxication, vulgarity, etc. (cf. the harvest in The Book of Ruth).

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that Moshe had just reviewed all God’s commandments in depth (the oral law); the law-giving process was now completed. “Moshe spoke to the children of Israel according to all that God commanded Moshe” (30:1). Moshe now adds that individuals and communities may also make vows, appropriate additional voluntary commitments, to better fulfill the law and Israel’s priestly destiny.

The Jews were almost swept away by pagan orgies; Moshe is about to die. Two great public institutions now remind Israel of external and internal Divine reality, according to Hirsch. The first is public sacrifices, powerful symbolic sensory messages, teaching the sanctification of primal drives. The second is binding vows, unique human speech that must reflect man’s divinity.

Moshe first teaches the laws of vows, as all laws, only to the tribal heads, to enhance their authority. According to the commentator Ramban, only the leaders were addressed--God didn’t want the people to know that vows could be nullified, until their leaders saw the need for it.

Perhaps Moshe now hoped that God would negate His vow that he not enter Israel--yet he eagerly obeyed God’s command to take revenge for the Jews against Midian, even though he was slated to die thereafter; he ordered the Jews to take revenge for God against Midian.

Only 1000 holy soldiers are taken from each tribe, plus 1000 Levite chaplins. Six hundred thousand profane Jews, however, were easily “conquered” by Midianite playgirls, mirroring Israel’s confrontations with western culture, polluting what could be a holy Israel, & its smashing success at Entebbe.

Israel slew all adult Midianite males. Moshe was angry with the officers--the women, even those who seduced Israel to idolatry, causing 24000 to die, were kept alive; leaders are responsible for such failings, as is a husband who forces his wife to violate her vows which were not annulled (Rashi). Israel must now kill every Ms. Midianite who’s slept with a man or was old enough to have known a man and all male children.

Click here for additional commentary on Masei and the Haftorah.

Torah Outreach Program, based in Jerusalem, provides a study of every Torah reading and Jewish Holiday, giving exact citations and interfacing modern culture and knowledge with the Torah and Jewish tradition. By its own description, Torah Outreach Program is apolitical, open, modern Zionist, and “truly traditional,” believing that the written and oral law are from God. Visit their website at Torah Outreach Program.

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