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.
Zeh hadavar asher tziva Hashem liv’nos Tzelafchad leimor l’tov b’eineihem tih’yena l’nashim ach l’mishpachas mateh avihem tih’yena l’nashim (36:6)
The Torah requires a daughter who inherits land from her father to marry somebody from her father’s tribe to prevent the ownership of the land from being transferred to another tribe upon her death (36:7-9). Although the Torah seems to require the daughters of Tzelafchad to marry men from their father’s tribe (Menashe) for this reason, the Gemora in Bava Basra (120a) teaches that this wasn’t a commandment, but rather a piece of good advice that Hashem told Moshe to give them. As this section of the Torah was taught in response to the argument of the tribe of Menashe (36:1-4) that the marriage of the daughters of Tzelafchad to men from other tribes would bring about a reduction in the size of their tribal land, why wasn’t this advice indeed made an obligation incumbent upon them?
The Steipler answers by noting that the Rambam rules (Hilchos Nachalos 1:8) that a husband only inherits his wife’s possessions through a later Rabbinical enactment. If one of the daughters of Tzelafchad married a man from another tribe, there was no fear that her land would pass over to him. The only way for the land to pass to another tribe would be in a case where her son, whose tribe is determined by his father, inherits it from her.
The Gemora teaches that each of the daughters of Tzelafchad was already over the age of 40 at this time. The Gemora questions this claim by noting that if it were true, they would no longer be able to biologically bear children. The Gemora answers that although this should have been the case, Hashem made a miracle for them due to their righteousness and allowed them to have children.
In light of this Gemora, it is difficult to understand why the tribe of Menashe argued that the daughters of Tzelafchad shouldn’t be allowed to marry men from other tribes. Their husbands wouldn’t inherit the land, and they weren’t biologically capable of having children who might inherit it. We must conclude that their tribesmen recognized their piety and feared that they may miraculously give birth to sons.
However, this miracle could only take place before Hashem gave the commandment regarding the transfer of tribal property. Once this mitzvah was given, there was no longer any basis for worry. In the event that the daughters of Tzelafchad would ignore Hashem’s preference and marry men from another tribe, they would no longer be considered sufficiently righteous to merit the miraculous birth of sons, which would result in the transfer of their tribal land.
With this understanding, it is now clear that there was no prohibition for the daughters of Tzelafchad to marry men from another tribe. Their husbands wouldn’t inherit their land, and they wouldn’t give birth to sons who could inherit it, thus leaving the land firmly in the hands of their relatives from the tribe of Menashe. Nevertheless, Hashem gave them a piece of “good advice.” If they married men from the tribe of Menashe, they could miraculously merit children, as in that case the children’s inheritance would pose no threat to the ownership of the tribal land.
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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) 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)
3) The Gemora in Makkos (13a) teaches that an accidental murderer living in one of the six cities of refuge didn’t have to pay rent to his Levite landlord. If there wasn’t enough space in one of the cities of refuge to accompany a new accidental murderer seeking refuge there, may he insist that one of the Levite inhabitants move out to make room for him? (Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, Panim Yafos, Minchas Chinuch 410:13, Ayeles HaShachar 35:7)
4) An accidental murderer is required to flee to a city of refuge and remain there until the death of the Kohen Gadol (35:25). The Mishnah in Makkos (11a) teaches that to ensure that they wouldn’t pray for the death of the Kohen Gadol, which would free them to return to their homes, the Kohen Gadol’s mother would send them food and clothing. Why specifically did the mother of the Kohen Gadol send these gifts and not the Kohen Gadol, his father, or his wife? (Aruch L’Ner Makkos 11a, Yachin Makkos 2:6, Toras Chaim, Peninei Kedem)
© 2012 by Oizer Alport.