Hebraic Studies - Parashat Mattos (No 1)

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Parashat Mattos No 1

Be’midbar – Numbers Chapter 30 verse 2 to Chapter 32 verse 42.

With Rabbi Reuven Ben-Avraham.

 Our Parashat opens with “This is the Word” - :

“And Moshe spoke unto the heads of the tribes of the Children of Israel, saying: This is the thing (or word) (Zeh ha’davar - ) which hath commanded” Be’midbar - Numbers 30:2 (“Jewish Publication Society” (JPS) version of the Torah).

It is said that many prophets, and occasionally Moshe Rabbeinu, introduced their messages with the phrase “Thus saith ” - .

“Thus saith - : the people that were left of the sword have found grace in the wilderness, even Israel, when I go to cause him to rest” Yirmyahu - Jeremiah 31:1 (“Jewish Publication Society” (JPS) version of the Tanakh).

But only Moshe introduced his messages with “This is the word (thing)Zeh ha’davar” - .

Unbelievably certain rabbis of old have stated that our prophets saw their prophecies with an “unclear vision,” whilst Moshe saw it all with a “clear vision.” And they firmly believed, “The prophets (besides Moshe) had to spend time to interpret the prophecy they were given”. Thus it became a process that could be affected by the prophets’ own personalities and predilections, with these rabbis implying that they could all be wrong. But obviously all prophecy to Moshe’s prophecy was completely different.

I have to say that this ideology is complete and utter rubbish, and having heard some of erroneous teaching from one of our local rabbis who taught that the Egyptian Princess was a believer in Elohim at a session in his Home group, and that Moshe’s Mum waited until she had entered the Nile, before she was permitted to place the basket in the now Kosher water. Excuse me, she was a pagan Egyptian princess, where did this get this from, oh yes, from his late rebbe; ‘Menachem Schneerson’. That teaching was as bad as the small card their group distributed throughout the world as well as in Yisrael with “Schneerson’s” full colour photograph and the words under his image stating “This is the God Mashiach”. Thus beware of that which is erroneous and the beautiful truth that come from Elohim, blessed be He!

We know that each of the prophets were chosen by Elohim, blessed be He, and they clearly understood His Words and they acted on them and they were great man of faith. Although they clearly knew their short comings, for they were just men, who were not worthy, but Elohim could see their worth, just as He did with Moshe, who really did not want to do it, and he gave five strong reasons whilst at the burning bush why he was not right for the job. But Elohim knew better and Moshe was of course the perfect choice!

As it said at the opening of this Parsha;

“And Moshe spoke unto the heads of the tribes of the Children of Israel”

Whilst Moshe Rabbeinu understood exactly what Elohim meant and transmitted it literally and he did so perfectly. He could say:

And Moshe spoke unto the heads of the tribes of the Children of Israel, saying: This is the thing (or word) (Zeh ha’davar - ) which hath commanded” Be’midbar - Numbers 30:2 (JPS).

Why is this message so clearly alluded to in this Parashah? Well, the first section of Mattot presents the laws of vows and oaths. These laws demonstrate man’s special status, because through a vow or oath, a person can, in effect, create new mitzvah obligations.

For example, if a person says, “I swear that I will pray all day long,” it becomes a mitzvah for him to pray all day long. If a person says, “Chocolates and sweets are forbidden to me today as a sacrifice,” it becomes a mitzvah for him to refrain from having any kind of sweets. This ability of person to enact new laws might lead one to question the Divine origin of the Torah. Accordingly, the Torah chooses this context to inform us that Moshe’s prophecy and indeed, the transmission of the entire Torah was a literal transmission of Elohim Words, blessed be His Sanctified Name!

Making vows is all related to the second verse of Mattos;

“When a man voweth a vow unto , or sweareth an oath to bind his soul with a bond, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth” Be’midbar - Numbers 30:3 (JPS).

It is no accident that this, the second verse of Parshat Mattos, is stated shortly before the B’Nei Yisroel approached the Promised Land. The institution of promising, of which vows and oaths to Elohim are a supreme example, is essential to the existence of a free society. Freedom depends upon people keeping their word!

One instance of how this plays out in real life does appear later in the Parsha. Two of the tribes, Reuben and Gad, decide that they would rather live to the east of the Jordan where the land is more suitable for their livestock. After a fraught conversation with Moshe, who accuses them of shirking their responsibilities to the rest of the people, they agree to be on the front lines of the army until the conquest of the land is complete. Everything depends on their keeping their word.

All social institutions in a free society depend on trust, and trust means honouring our promises, doing what we say we will do. When this breaks down, the very future of freedom is at risk. There is a classic example of this in the Tanakh. It appears in the book of Yirmyahu - Jeremiah, where the Prophet is describing the society of his time, when people could no longer be trusted to keep their word:

“For they are all adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men. And they bend their tongue, their bow of falsehood; and they are grown mighty in the land, but not for truth; for they proceed from evil to evil, and Me they know not, saith . Take ye heed every one of his neighbour, and trust ye not in any brother; for every brother acteth subtly, and every neighbour goeth about with slanders. And they deceive every one his neighbour, and truth they speak not; they have taught their tongue to speak lies, they weary themselves to commit iniquity. Thy habitation is in the midst of deceit; through deceit they refuse to know Me, saith ” Yirmyahu - Jeremiah 9:2-5 (JPS).

To sum the above up, the following was sadly the accusation by Elohim against B’Nei Yisrael at the time of Yirmyahu when the people and many of the so-called prophets and priests had gone far astray!:

“They bend their tongues like bows;

They are valorous in the land for treachery, not for honesty;

They advance from evil to evil.

They do not heed Me, declares .

Beware of your friends;

Trust not even a brother,

For every one of them is a deceiver, and every friend a slanderer.

Friend deceives friend, and no one speaks the truth.

They have taught their tongues to lie; they weary themselves with sinning.

You live in the midst of deceit; in their deceit they refuse to heed Me – declares

That was the condition of a society that was about to lose its freedom to the Babylonians. And sadly, at large it never really fully recovered.

If trust breaks down, social relationships break down. Society will then depend on law enforcement agencies or some other use of force. When force is widely used, society is no longer free. The only way free human beings can form collaborative and cooperative relationships without recourse to force is by the use of verbal undertakings honoured by those who make them.

Freedom needs trust. Trust needs people to keep their word, and keeping your word means treating words as holy vows and oaths as extremely sacred. Only under very special and precisely formulated circumstances can you be released from your undertakings. That is why, when B’Nei Yisrael approached the Holy Land where they were able to create a free society, but they had to be reminded of the sacred character of vows and oaths.

However, the temptation to break your word when it is to your advantage to do so can sometimes be overwhelming. That is, dear reader, why our faith in Elohim, the Elohim who really knows everything we think, say, and do, and who holds us accountable to our commitments, is so fundamental.

Understanding this, we can now appreciate that the appearance of laws about vows and oaths, located close to the end of Be’midbar, as the people were approaching the land of Yisrael was no accident, and the moral is still relevant today.

A free society depends on trust. Trust depends on keeping your word. That is how humans imitate Elohim – by using language to create. Words create moral obligations, and moral obligations, undertaken responsibly and honoured faithfully, create the possibility of a free society. So Elohim willing, never break a promise. Always do what you say you are going to do. If we fail to keep our word, eventually, Elohim forbid, we will lose our freedom!

At this moment I am reminded of Tehillim No One. It is the most powerful Tehillim of them all, for if you cannot pass the test it sets, then, do not bother reading the rest!

I pray you feel that you live in versed 1 to 3, and Elohim willing not in 3 to 6 …

“1. Happy is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the wicked,
stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seat of the scornful.

2. But his delight is in the law of ; and in His law doth he meditate day and night.

3. And he shall be like a tree planted by streams of water,
that bringeth forth its fruit in its season, and whose leaf doth not wither; and in whatsoever he doeth he shall prosper.

4. Not so the wicked; but they are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.

5. Therefore the wicked shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.

6. For regardeth the way of the righteous; but the way of the wicked shall perish.Tehillim 1-6 (JPS).

In closing; Shabbat Shalom and …

Always remember our motto seen on the logo at the top of this page: “The More Torah, the More Life”, for Elohim, blessed be His Sanctified Name, is the one who gave us our Life!”

Rabbi Reuven Ben-Avraham.


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