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 Parshas Mattos - Vol. 4, Issue 40
Compiled by Oizer Alport


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. Whereas normally Hashem told Moshe 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 Jew. Although Rashi offers a technical legal point which is derived from this anomaly, 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 the truth, turned 80, 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 details about the writing of the parchments in tefillin, some virtuous individuals have the custom of wearing a second pair to fulfill the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam. Although Rav Yaakov certainly possessed the piety required for one who wished to take on this 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, Rav Yaakov 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. Upon ascertaining the age of the man, Rav Yaakov 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 as role models in keeping one’s word. During the recent election season, we were unfortunately often reminded that the dedication of our Rabbis to keeping their word is hardly shared by today’s political leaders. The Israeli politician Abba Eban once cynically remarked, “It is our experience that political leaders do not always mean the opposite of what they say.”

            Although many of us don’t view 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. Parshas Mattos 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 “al sh’mo” – 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 a person 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 Chochmah 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 wilderness, with the accidental killer required to dwell in the camp of the Levites (Rashi Shemos 21:13), an accidental killing never actually occurred during this entire period.

The Torah relates that upon the death of Aharon, every member of the Jewish nation cried and mourned his death. Rashi explains that this was due to his tremendous efforts to make peace between quarreling parties. The Meshech Chochmah notes, however, that had there been even a single accidental murderer during this 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!

However, the Matamei Yaakov questions this proof. It is entirely possible that there was an accidental killer who was exiled to the Levite camp but who died prior to the death of Aharon, which occurred during the last year of their 40-year sojourn in the wilderness. As such, the fact that at the time of Aharon’s death every living Jew mourned his passing doesn’t constitute an absolute indication that there were no accidental killings during this period.


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

1)     The Gemora in Sanhedrin (106b) teaches that Bilaam was executed (31:8) by means of all four forms of death used by the Sanhedrin: stoning, fire, sword, and strangulation. How was it possible to kill one person using all four forms of execution? (Rashi, Yad Ramah, and Maharsha Sanhedrin 106b; Ayeles HaShachar)

2)     The tribes of Gad and Reuven agreed to Moshe’s condition, that they would leave their wives and children on the east side of the Jordan River while they would lead the Jews in the battle to conquer the land of Israel proper and remain there until it was divided among the other tribes (32:25-27, Rashi 35:24). Did the land already belong to them at this point, such that they were able to sell it as the rightful legal owners, or did their possession only take effect after they fulfilled their condition? (Seforno 32:28 and 32:33, Ayeles HaShachar)

3)     There is only one yahrzeit which is explicit in the Torah. Whose is it, and what is the date?

4)     Rav Chaim Kanievsky notes that in the section detailing the laws of the cities of refuge (35:6-34), the word “rotzeach” – 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)

 © 2009 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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