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 Parshas Mattos - Vol. 3, Issue 41
Compiled by Oizer Alport


Ish ki yidor neder l’Hashem (30:3)

            Parshas Mattos begins with the laws governing oaths and vows. The concept of taking a vow to Hashem is a difficult one to understand. The Shelah HaKadosh writes that if a person wants to understand the true significance of any idea, he should examine its meaning in the first place it appears in the Torah.

In the case of a vow, Rav Gedaliah Schorr notes that it first appears in the beginning of Parshas Vayeitzei (Bereishis 28:20-22): Yaakov took a vow, saying, “If Hashem will be with me … then this stone which I have made as a pillar will become a House for Hashem.” We similarly find in Tehillim (132:2-5) that the concept of a vow is associated with making a dwelling place for Hashem: He (Dovid HaMelech) swore to Hashem and vowed to the Strong One of Yaakov (Hashem), “If I enter the tent of my home … until I find a place for Hashem, resting places for the Strong One of Yaakov.”

            The Torah is teaching us that vows are somehow connected to the idea of a Holy dwelling place for Hashem. In fact, Rabbeinu Bechaye writes that the word “neder” (vow) is linguistically derived from the expression “dirah l’Hashem” – a dwelling place for Hashem. It isn’t a coincidence, then, that Parshas Mattos is always read during the mourning period known as the three weeks, in which our focus must be on recognizing the tragedy of what we lost when the Temple was destroyed and on strengthening ourselves to build a resting place for Hashem within us. Through our individual emphasis on “B’soch libi Mishkan evneh” – I will build a Mishkan within my heart – we should merit seeing the collective redemption with the rebuilding of the true Beis HaMikdash speedily in our days!


V’es Bilam ben Be’or hargu be’charev (31:8)

Although at first glance it seems that Parshas Balak is the first time that we are introduced to Bilaam in the Torah and that the events described therein have no connection to earlier episodes, our Sages reveal to us the depth of the Torah and open our eyes to see that this isn’t the case. The Medrash Tanchuma (Vayeitzei 13) and Targum Yonason ben Uziel (22:5) teach us an amazing fact: they write that Bilaam was none other than Lavan, the father of Rochel and Leah!

Using this concept, the Tosefes Beracha offers a fascinating explanation of an episode in Parshas Balak. Hashem attempted to impede Bilaam’s journey by sending an angel to block his path, but only Bilaam’s donkey saw the sword-wielding angel. The Torah tells us (22:24) that the angel stood in the vineyards, with a fence on either side of it. Rashi cryptically comments that the fences were made of stones. What is Rashi trying to teach us?

When Yaakov parted from his father-in-law Lavan, Lavan proposed a peace treaty between them. They took stones and made a mound, which Lavan said would serve as a witness if either of them attempted to cross over it for unfriendly purposes (Bereishis 31:45-49). The Tosefes Beracha suggests that Rashi is teaching us that the angel was standing guard next to the fence of stones, for it was the very same mound of rocks at which Yaakov and Lavan made their covenant of peace. When Bilaam, who we now know was none other than Lavan, attempted to cross it and violate the peace treaty, the sword-wielding angel came out in full force to stop him!

Extending this one step further, the Rosh notes that the Torah records that Bilaam was killed with a sword. He explains that when Yaakov and Lavan made their pact, Yaakov placed a sword in the mound of rocks to serve together with the stones as witnesses to their covenant of peace. They agreed that whoever broke the treaty should be punished by the witnesses. For this reason, Bilaam was first warned through being pressed by his donkey against the stone fence. When he refused to take heed, he was killed áçřá (be’charev), which refers to something already well-known, in this case the very sword which they placed in the mound of rocks to serve as a witness!


Vayomer Moshe livnei Gad v’livnei Reuven ha’acheichem yavo’u l’milchama v’atem teishvu poh v’lama se’niun es lev B’nei Yisroel me’avor el ha’aretz asher nasan lahem Hashem (32:6-7)

At the end of Parshas Chukas, the Jewish people conquered the lands of Sichon and Og, which were just across the Jordan River to the east of the land of Israel proper. In this week’s parsha, the tribes of Gad and Reuven approached Moshe with a request. They noticed that these lands were particularly well-suited for raising animals. As these two tribes were blessed with an abundance of livestock, they asked for permission to receive and settle this area as their portion in the land.

Moshe responded harshly, questioning why their brethren should go to battle to conquer the rest of the land of Israel while they remain behind living comfortably. He also argued that their actions could dissuade the rest of the Jews from wanting to enter and conquer the land, in a manner similar to the negative report brought back by the spies. The tribes of Gad and Reuven clarified their intentions, explaining that after they built cities for their families and animals in this region, they would join the rest of the Jews in the battle for the land of Israel proper. Only after it was fully conquered and settled by their brethren would they return to their families. Upon hearing this, Moshe agreed to their request, but only after making a legally-binding agreement with them.

            The commentators explain that the two tribes always intended to assist in the conquest of Israel, but because they didn’t see this point as significant, they didn’t say it explicitly until pressed by Moshe. Why did Moshe accuse them so harshly, and why was it so important to him to make an explicit legal stipulation with the tribes regarding this point?

            In his work Shemen HaTov, Rav Dov Weinberger explains that Moshe recognized their original good intentions. Nevertheless, he was concerned that after they actually built the cities for their families and animals, they would be tempted to reconsider their plans. After 40 years of wandering through the wilderness in pursuit of a stable home, it would be quite natural for them to be tempted to reevaluate their commitment to spend an additional 14 years helping their brethren conquer and settle the land of Israel.

To prevent this from occurring and to keep their actions consistent with their original intentions, Moshe insisted on making a binding agreement with them. Only if they fulfilled their end by assisting with the conquest of Israel would they be permitted to keep their land on the east side of the Jordan.

This explanation brings to mind the following story. The Alter of Novhardok once heard that a certain individual was coming to visit his town. He was in doubt whether it was appropriate for him to go to the train station to greet and welcome the guest. Since it was the middle of the frigid winter, the Alter worried that perhaps he would decide against going not for the right reasons, but because he was motivated by laziness and comfort. To remove this concern, he traveled to the train station and proceeded to make his decision once he was already there.

Many times in life we are confronted with difficult decisions. When weighing the various factors involved, it is important to be aware of our personal biases and to strive to reach conclusions based on pure, unbiased thinking.


Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     A man betrothed a woman on the condition that she not eat any forbidden foods for 30 days. She then took a vow not to consume a particular food. Upon hearing of this, her father revoked the vow while her “husband” remained silent. She then proceeded to eat the food in question. If one maintains that she violated the condition of the betrothal by eating a forbidden food, the result will be that she was single at the time of her vow and her father’s revocation rendered the food permissible. If so, it will turn out that she fulfilled the condition and was married at the time, in which case her father’s revocation is meaningless since she is now subject to the response of her husband, who effectively upheld the vow with his silence, rendering the food forbidden and causing her to break the condition of the betrothal. Is she legally married or single? (Zahav Sh’va)

2)     If the Jews killed every Midianite male (31:7), how is it possible that in the times of Gideon, 120,000 Jews were killed by the Midianites? Lest one answer that they were descended from the young Midianite females who weren’t killed (31:18), the Gemora in Kiddushin (66b) rules that the nationality of non-Jews is determined by the father, such that the children of these girls wouldn’t be considered Midianites? (MiTzion Michlal Yofee)

3)     Elozar taught the laws (31:21-24) about koshering the utensils they plundered in the war against Midian. As they were surely considered by this time to be “aino ben yomo” – vessels unused in the previous 24 hours – their use was Biblically permitted, so why was there a need to teach the laws of kashering them? (Ritva Avodah Zara 67b, Kreisi U’Pleisi 103, Paneiach Raza, Peninei Kedem)

4)     When would a gentile’s utensils not need to be immersed in a mikvah for Jewish use? (Zahav Sh’va, Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer 8:19-20)

5)     Moshe told (32:22) the tribes of Gad and Reuven that they must fulfill their conditions in order to be clean in the eyes of Hashem and the Jewish people. Chazal derive from here several laws requiring a person to exceed the strict letter of the law in order that he not appear to be doing something inappropriate to those who observe him, often referred to as “maris ayin.” If somebody is doing something only to prevent a case of maris ayin but which would require a blessing if it was required according to the letter of the law, may he recite a blessing? (Shu”t Rashba 525, Ran Shabbos 23a, Besamim Rosh 283, Pri To’ar 19:1, Kreisi U’Pleisi 13:4, Birkei Yosef Yoreh Deah 13:4 and Orach Chaim 571:11, Michtam L’Dovid Orach Chaim 23, Chavatzeles HaSharon)

 © 2008 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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