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 Parshas Mattos-Masei - Vol. 2, Issue 36

Vay’dabeir Moshe el roshei ha’matos liv’nei Yisroel leimor zeh ha’davar asher tzivah Hashem ish ki yidor neder L’Hashem … lo yachel devaro k’chol ha’yotzei mipiv ya’aseh (30:2-3)

            Parshas Mattos begins with the laws governing oaths and vows. However, whereas normally Hashem told Moses to teach the laws directly to the Jewish people, in this case he curiously began by instructing the tribal leaders. The Torah proceeds to detail laws concerning vows placed on oneself as well as vows between husbands and wives and fathers and daughters, laws which aren’t unique to the leaders but which are relevant to every individual Jew. Although Rashi offers a technical legal point to be derived from this curiosity, what lesson can we take from the Torah’s emphasis on teaching these laws to the heads of the tribes?

            When Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky, who was renowned for his devotion to honesty and always telling the truth. When he turned 80 years old, he began donning an additional pair of tefillin, known as the tefillin of Rabbeinu Tam, each morning. Because there is a legal dispute regarding certain technical details about the writing of the parchments in tefillin, some virtuous individuals have the custom of wearing a second set after they have taken off the primary set of tefillin, in order to fulfill the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam.

            Although Rav Yaakov certainly possessed the piety required for one who wished to take on this additional stringency, some of his students were puzzled by the fact that he had never done so previously. What suddenly transpired which made him change his practice?

            When they asked him about this, he explained that many years previously, an elderly Jew in his minyan began to put on the tefillin of Rabbeinu Tam at the end of the morning services. One of Rav Yaakov’s students asked him why he hadn’t also adopted this praiseworthy practice. In his humility, Rav Yaakov attempted to avoid the question by noting that the other man was much older, adding that if Hashem would allow him to reach that age, perhaps he would also adopt the practice.

            Although the comment was said only casually, Rav Yaakov immediately worried that his commitment to truth obligated him to fulfill his words, as our verses teach that, “According to whatever comes from his mouth, so shall he do.” Upon ascertaining the age of the man, he waited many years until he reached that age, at which point he immediately adopted the practice in order to keep his “promise.”

            In light of this story, we can appreciate that some commentators suggest that the mitzvah of honoring one’s promises and keeping one’s word was taught specifically to the tribal heads to emphasize to them the importance of serving role models in keeping one’s word. As we begin gearing up for another election season, we are unfortunately often reminded that our Rabbis’ dedication to keeping their word is hardly shared by today’s political leaders. The Israeli politician Abba Eban once cynically remarked that, “It is our experience that political leaders do not always mean the opposite of what they say.

            Although many of us don’t envision ourselves as leaders, this lesson is still applicable to each of us. Whether as parents, bosses, or organizational officers, most of us have people in our lives who look to us to serve as moral guides. This week’s parsha teaches that one crucial ingredient in successfully filling any leadership role is a strong dedication to honoring our commitments.


V’Yair ben Menashe halacha vayilkod es chavoseihem vayikra es’hen Chavos Yair …
V’Novach halacha vayilkod es K’nas v’es b’noseha vayikra la Novach bish’mo (32:41-42)

            Rav Aizik Ausband was once faced with a dilemma. His father-in-law, Rav Avrohom Yitzchok Bloch Hy”d, was one of the leaders of the Telz yeshiva who was tragically murdered in the Holocaust. Rav Ausband’s wife was pregnant, and if the baby was a boy, he wished to commemorate the memory of his father-in-law by naming the baby Avrohom Yitzchok.

The problem was that Rav Ausband’s full name is R’ Yitzchok Aizik. Since the prevalent custom is not to give a child the same name as his parents, Rav Ausband wondered whether he was permitted to have a son named Avrohom Yitzchok. Should this be avoided because both names would contain “Yitzchok,” or does the fact that each would have an additional name make it acceptable?

            Rav Ausband presented his query to Rav Eliezer Silver, who replied that the Torah “explicitly” answers this very question at the end of Parshas Matos. Yair conquered the villages in Gilad and renamed them Chavos-Yair – the villages of Yair. Rashi explains that because Yair had no children, he named the villages after himself to memorialize his name.

The Torah continues and recounts that Novach captured K’nas and its suburbs and renamed them Novach in his name. Why isn’t the expression “in his name” also used in conjunction with Yair naming his villages Chavos-Yair? We even find later (Devorim 3:14) that Moshe mentioned that Yair called the cities òì ùîå – after his name.

Rav Silver answered that because Novach gave his exact name to his conquered territory, the Torah says that he called them “in his name.” Yair, on the other hand, added an additional name in calling his villages not “Yair” but “Chavos-Yair.” Moshe considered this a memorial to Yair’s name, but the additional name makes it a new name which can’t be considered “in his name.” As a result, the names Yitzchok Aizik and Avrohom Yitzchok, each of which contains an additional name, are considered two different names and may be used by a father and son!


Ki b’ir miklato yeishev ad mos HaKohen HaGadol v’acharei mos HaKohen HaGadol yashuv ha’rotzeiach el eretz achuzaso (35:28)

            The Torah requires one who accidentally kills another Jew to flee to one of the cities of refuge. In order to be protected from the deceased’s relative and blood-avenger, he must remain there until the death of the Kohen Gadol, at which point he is permitted to return to his community and family. The Meshech Chochma derives from a verse in Parshas Chukas (20:29) that although this law was applicable during the 40-year sojourn of the Jews in the desert, with the accidental killer required to dwell in the camp of the Levites, such an episode never actually occurred during this entire period.

The Torah relates that upon the death of Aharon, every single member of the Jewish nation cried and mourned his death, which Rashi explains was due to his tremendous efforts to pursue and make peace among quarreling parties. Rav Meir Simcha notes, however, that had there been even a single accidental murderer during that period, he wouldn’t have cried at the death of Aharon – the Kohen Gadol – but rather would have rejoiced at the event which secured his freedom!


Zeh ha’davar asher tzivah Hashem liv’nos Tzelofchad leimor l’tov b’eineihem tih’yenah l’nashim ach l’mishpachas mateh avihem tih’yenah l’nashim … ka’asher tzivah Hashem es Moshe kein asu b’nos Tzelafchad vatih’yenah Machlah, Tirtzah, v’Chaglah, u’Milkah, v’Noah b’nos Tzelafchad liv’nei dodeihen l’nashim (36:6, 10-11)

Although the Torah seems to require (36:6) the daughters of Tzelafchad to marry men from their father’s tribe (Menashe), the Gemora in Bava Basra (120a) states this wasn’t a commandment to them but rather a piece of good advice that Hashem told Moshe to give to them. Even so, the Torah testifies that although not obligated to do so, they followed Hashem’s “advice” and each of them found a man from her father’s tribe to marry.

Rav Zalman Sorotzkin notes that one might think that it would be difficult to find an appropriate spouse if one’s dating pool is artificially reduced by 11/12 and would therefore expect that at least some of the daughters of Tzelafchad would feel forced to choose to ignore Hashem’s non-binding advice, especially when considering that the Gemora in Bava Basra (120a) states that all of them had already reached the age of 40.

Therefore, the Torah emphasizes that no matter how restricted they may have felt in their choices, each of them recognized that each match is pre-destined and arranged by Hashem, who knows what is best for each person, with special Divine Providence in order to bring it about. Each of them understood that the apparent reduction in the size of her dating pool needn’t force her to remain single or to marry someone who will make her unhappy. Following Hashem’s advice allowed each one to restrict her dating pool … to the one pre-destined bashert who would give her true happiness in life!


Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     A woman who desperately wanted to get married traveled to Meron, the burial place of Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai, and vowed that if she found her match, she would name her first male child Shimon in his merit. She indeed got married shortly thereafter, but her new husband’s name was Shimon! What should she do about her vow? (Rav Shach quoted in Toras’cha Sha’ashuai)

2)     Why does the Torah allow a father to revoke the vows of his daughter (30:6) but not of his son? (Taima D’Kra Hosafos, Derech Sicha)

3)     Did Pinchas kill Bilaam? If so, did he become ritually impure from doing so, and if so, how was he permitted to do so as a Kohen? (Sanhedrin 106b and Rashi there, Zohar HaKadosh Balak 194b, Targum Yerushalmi, Radak Shmuel 2 23:20, Yeshuos Yaakov Orach Chaim 343:2, Taima D’Kra, Chavatzeles HaSharon, Mishmeres Ariel, Matamei Yaakov, M’rafsin Igri)

4)     Why was Moshe angry (31:14) with the army officers for allowing the Midianite women to live when he didn’t command them to kill the women? (Paneiach Raza, Shelah HaKadosh)

5)     Rashi writes (31:50) that those who fought the war against Midian offered to Hashem the various pieces of jewelry that they had found in order to effect atonement for sinful thoughts they may have had upon gazing at the Midianite women. As the Torah permits (Devorim 21:11) a soldier to marry a éôú úåàø – beautiful woman – that he sees while at battle, why did they need to repent for looking at the Midianite women? (Tosefos Shabbos 64a d.h. miy’dei, Tosefos HaRosh Kiddushin 78a, Daas Z’keinim, Paneiach Raza, Maharit Kiddushin 78a, P’nei Yehoshua Shabbos 64a, Divrei Shaul, Har Tzvi, Tzafnas Paneiach 31:4, Shiras Dovid, Chavatzeles HaSharon)

6)     Did the tribes of Gad and Reuven have proper intentions when they asked to inherit their portions in the land to the east of the Jordan River? (Daas Z’keinim, Darash Moshe)

7)     Why did Moshe give a portion of the land east of the Jordan River to half of the tribe of Menashe (32:33) when they hadn’t requested to inherit that land as did the tribes of Gad and Reuven? (Ramban, HaEmek Davar Devorim 3:16, Degel Machaneh Ephraim)

8)     The Ramban writes that 33:53 is the source for a positive Biblical obligation to live in the land of Israel. Is this mitzvah still applicable at present, and if not, why not? (Tosefos Kesuvos 110b, Shu”t Beis HaLevi 2:50, Shu”t Chasam Sofer Yoreh Deah 234 d.h. v’hinei, Shu”t Igros Moshe Even HaEzer 1:102, Ha’aros Kesuvos 110b, Vayo’el Moshe, Chavatzeles HaSharon)

9)     Rav Chaim Kanievsky notes that in the section detailing the laws of the cities of refuge (35:6-34), the word rotzeiach – murderer – is used 17 times. He suggests that this is an allusion to the 17 (improper and unjustified) murderers who are found throughout Tanach. How many can you name? (Taima D’Kra)

10)  One who kills accidentally is required to flee to one of the cities of refuge and to remain there until the death of the Kohen Gadol (35:25). Why did Hashem specifically make the accidental murderer’s freedom contingent upon the death of the Kohen Gadol? (Rabbeinu Bechaye, Moreh Nevuchim quoted in Shiras Dovid, Shelah HaKadosh, Chida, Mishmeres Ariel)

11)  One who kills accidentally is required to flee to one of the cities of refuge and to remain there until the death of the Kohen Gadol (35:25). As all other punishments are meted out uniformly, why is this one unique in that one accidental killer may have to wait decades until the death of the Kohen Gadol while another may go free in  minutes? (Korban Chaggiga, Meshech Chochmah)

12)  One who kills accidentally is required to flee to one of the cities of refuge and to remain there until the death of the Kohen Gadol (35:25). If he proceeds to kill the Kohen Gadol, does this death free him and permit him to leave the city of refuge? (Minchas Chinuch 410)

© 2007 by Oizer Alport. Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute as long as credit is given. To receive weekly via email or to send comments or suggestions, write to


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