REFLECTIONS ON PARASHAH MATOT-MASEI
FIRST OF AV, 5871
The opening lines of Parashah Matot (Numbers 30:2-32:42) begins like no other in the Torah as Moshe gives specified instruction on the making of vows and their consequences. For many in the modern age, the idea of making vows or valuing verbal commitments seems both foreign and even antiquated, while growing up in a generation where we were rule by the adage that “promises were made to be broken!”
Counter to this decline in both culture and biblical standards, our Parashah in Numbers 30:3 sends a different messages stating,
“… When a man makes a vow to Adonai or formally obligates himself by swearing an oath, he is not to break his word but is to do everything he said he would do.”
Given that the people of God are called to emulate Adonai and model our actions and character after His eternal attributes, the Art Scroll Chumash notes that, “A Jew’s word is sacred, for him to violate it is a desecration.” This truth speaks loudly for all peoples where if we are to follow the Lord, we must also live in a way that brings honor to Him.
In our Siddur, the Haftorah blessing echoes this reality in stating, “Blessed are you, O Lord, our God, Ruler of the universe, rock of all ages, righteous throughout all generations. You are the faithful God, promising and then performing, first speaking and then fulfilling, for all your words are true and righteous.”
Because the words of Adonai first promises and then performs, speaks and then fulfills and are true and righteous - so our words, promises and commitments must seek to reflect that which resides in the Holy One forever. Although he is perfect, and because of sin we fail, we must nevertheless use our words to bless and to be a blessing. Where God used words to create, we too have great power in our words to bring forth life in the hearts of others, or even death as seen with the sin of lashon hara. With this, what is even more true is the pain and harm that can transform when we make a vow, obligation or commitment to God to so something and then we abdicate our responsibilities to Him.
Of this, Yeshua gives us the proper answer in commanding, “Just let your ‘Yes’ be a simple “Yes.’ And your ‘No;’ a simple ‘No;’ anything more than this has its origin in evil.” (Matthew 5:37) So, in the end, should we make oaths or vows? No - but in all things we should guard our tongues and keep the promises we make!
~ Rabbi Mark Rantz
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