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1. Following Rashi's commentary, in what two ways may a person be absolved from nedarim - vows? What is the difference between those two methods? To which people and in what circumstances do these methods apply?
2. From where, according to Rashi, may it be derived that a person who causes someone else to sin is subject to Divine punishment - as though he did the sin himself?
3. From where may it be learnt that Balaam was personally responsible for the Israelites' sin with Baal Peor?
4. What Halachot applying to utensils today may be learnt from the passage on the spoils taken in the war against Midian?
5. Why were the spoils of Midianite jewelry passed on to Moses (31:50) described as 'atoning for our souls before G-d' - according to the S'forno?
6. Why, according to the Midrash Hagadol, were the tribes of Reuben and Gad criticized by Moses for requesting to settle on the east bank of the Jordan? How, following Rashi, did Moses draw this fault to their attention?
ANSWERS TO THE QUESTIONS ON THE TEXT AND COMMENTARIES ON MATTOT-MASSEI
1. Following Rashi's commentary, the two ways may a person be absolved from nedarim are as follows:
(i) The vow may become 'loosened' (hatara)- non binding, by a person who is an expert in the laws of vows. This is not explicit in the Torah, but it is within Torah tradition, hinted at by the words 'this is the matter'(30:2) - meaning each way of absolution from vows must be carried out in the appropriate way. In the case of hatara - which applies to all people who make vows - the matter is put before expert and he may find that the vow was wrongly based - asking the person, for example, 'had you known that the vow would have included the unforeseen circumstance you are in now, would you have made the vow?' If he or she says no, the expert has the power to say that the vow was made in mistaken circumstances and is not a vow at all.
(ii) The vow may be revoked - (hafara) - and this is method explicit in the Parasha. This applies to vows made by women only. If she is an unmarried 'na'ara' (30:4 - on the threshold of adulthood - normally twelve years old), she is considered old enough to know what she is doing, but she is still under the jurisdiction of her own father. He has the power (even if he is not an expert in the laws of vows) to void all vows she makes on the day he hears about them. Once she passes a few months reaching adulthood, she leaves her father's authority and she becomes fully liable for fulfilling her own vows. In addition, a husband may also revoke his wife's vows - whatever age she may be - so long as they are of such a nature as they interfere with their well-being (30:14).
Hatara declares that there was never any vow to start with, in effect voiding them in the past, present, and future. Hafara acknowledges the vow, but voids them in the future only.
2. The text states: 'If he revokes them after he heard them (Rashi: after he himself approved the vows), he shall bear his iniquity' (30:16). This means that the woman subsequently acted on the basis that her vow had been voided, where in fact it had not. As the father or husband had misled the woman, he 'bears his iniquity' - he is held responsible by the Almighty. From there it may be derived that a person who causes someone else to sin is subject to Divine punishment - as though he did the sin himself.
3. Balaam's personal responsibility for the Israelites' sin with Baal Peor is explicitly mentioned in Moses' anger at the Israelite forces for sparing the Midianite women: 'for they, by the word of Balaam, caused the Israelites to do an act of betrayal against G-d over the matter of Peor' (31:16).
4. The following Halachot applying to utensils today may be learnt from the passage on the spoils taken in the war against the idolatrous Midianites:
(i) vessels of non-Israelite origin made out of metal must purified in fire to burn out any forbidden substances (31:22-23).
(ii) vessels of non-Israelite origin which have not absorbed forbidden substances may be purified by immersion - tevilat keilim. (31:23).
5. The spoils of Midianite jewelry were passed on to Moses as 'atoning for our souls before G-d', means, according to the S'forno, that the atonement was for the entire nation, which permitted the conduct at Peor to take place without protest.
6. The basis of Moses' distress at the requests of the tribes of Reuben and Gad to settle on the east bank of the Jordan was that they would be seen by the other tribes as trying to get out of the fighting to conquer the land, with its attendant consequences (32:6-15). According to the Midrash Hagadol, that was aggravated by those tribes paying attention to their having 'much cattle' (32:1), even though in reality they had no more than the other tribes. They were rebuked because they paid too much attention to their own material possessions. Indeed, Rashi points out that they told Moses that they would build 'pens for their flocks and cities for their children' (32:16). Moses told them to build 'cites for their children' and - only then, according to Rashi, 'pens for their flocks (32:24) - children first, property after!
Other Parashiot from previous years may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/parsha/solomon/index.htm
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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