weekly torah tidbits

Matot - Masei , July 22, 2017 - Tammuz 28, 5777

Matot - Masei : "Tribes - Journeys"


Torah: Numbers 30:2-36:13

Haftarah: Jeremiah 2:4-28, 3:4

Brit Chadashah (New Testament): Matthew 5:33-37; James 4:1-12

Learning to Draw and Shoot—Slowly

     There are a lot of nuggets in this combined portion, but we will look at one—making vows. The instructions given here seem a bit strange until we translate them into today's terminology. The issue on the table is making promises to the L-rd, and by extension, to each other. 

      The Torah here refers to a person who has just emerged from a traumatic experience—grave illness, life-threatening danger. Like a foxhole atheist, most of us turn to the L-rd in times of need—we have nowhere else to turn. In our desperation we often make promises to the L-rd, prodded by the need of the moment: "L-rd, if you get me out of this fix, I'll give myself completely to serve you; I'll give more, I'll serve more..." What happens after the storm clears and we are back on easy street? Our memory fades—we forget our desperation, our earnest pleading with the L-rd and we rationalize our not following through on this promise. The L-rd speaks of two types of vows here—positive (neder - referring to promises to do something) and negative (issar - referring to promises to abstain from something, like the Nazarite vows in Numbers 6:1-21). 

     The encouragement to the person making a vow is "he must not break his word but must do everything he said," (30:2, NIV). There are two aspects to the sin of breaking one's vow—relating to G-d and to oneself. Firstly, a promise made to the L-rd and not kept is nothing less than a slap in G-d's face—tremendous disrespect to G-d and His authority over us. It's as if we take G-d very lightly. King Solomon exhorts us to remember that the only intelligent response to G-d is to "stand in awe of G-d" (Ecclesiastes 5:1-6). 

      Secondly, we slam ourselves and our own character and reputation when we make promises to G-d and do not keep them. The Hebrew phrase here is literally "profane your word," which is the same kind of language used of slinging mud on G-d's reputation. The Torah challenges us to keep our word so that we don't end up looking like shiftless people who lack integrity. 

     The Torah makes a special provision for us when we are under someone else's authority. If they uphold our vows/commitment, we are obligated to follow through on our vows, but if they direct us to act differently, the L-rd views us as being released from our promises.