Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Matos

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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!

 Ishah hafeiram v’Hashem yislach lah (30:13)

The Torah says that in a case where a woman took a vow which her husband subsequently revoked, Hashem will forgive her. This is difficult to understand. Even if she transgressed her promise, why would she need atonement if her husband revoked her vow? The Gemora (Nazir 23a) explains that the Torah is referring to a case in which a woman’s husband revoked her vow unbeknownst to her, such that although the promise was no longer binding, she thought that it was still in effect and that she was violating it, an act which necessitates Hashem’s forgiveness.

The Gemora likens this to a person who thought that he was eating non-kosher meat but in reality consumed kosher meat, yet still must repent his sinful intentions. The Gemora adds that when Rabbi Akiva studied this verse, he began to cry, commenting that if a person requires atonement when he thought that he was sinning even though in reality he wasn’t, all the more so does he need forgiveness if he actually sins. Why did this concept specifically pain Rabbi Akiva more than any of the other Rabbis?

The Arizal writes that the Asarah Harugei Malchus – ten great Rabbis who were brutally and tragically martyred – were killed as atonement for the sin of the sale of Yosef by his brothers. Of the ten Rabbis, Rabbi Akiva died in the most cruel and painful manner because he was a gilgul (reincarnation) of Shimon, who was the primary instigator of the plot to harm Yosef (Rashi Bereishis 42:24) and bore the most responsibility for the sin.

After Yaakov’s death, Yosef’s brothers approached him to ask forgiveness for the sin of selling him into slavery. Yosef responded (Bereishis 50:20) that there was no need for him to forgive them because even though they had intended to harm him, no damage was done and the ultimate result was beneficial, as Hashem brought him to Egypt where he became viceroy and was able to use his position of power to sustain them during the famine.

Rav Shmuel Falkenfeld points out that Yosef’s reasoning is remarkably similar to the case described by our verse, in which a woman thought that she was sinning by violating her vow, but in reality, no transgression was committed because her husband had already revoked it. Nevertheless, the Torah explicitly states that in such a case, the woman requires forgiveness due to her intention to sin.

Although Rabbi Akiva was still alive and did not know what fate would ultimately befall him, there was some part of his soul which was aware of its past incarnation and impending punishment. Therefore, whenever he learned the verse which teaches that a person must repent for an action which he intended to be sinful even if circumstances beyond his control result in no sin being committed, he became afraid of the harsh punishment that Shimon and his brothers would require for their cruel plan to sell Yosef into slavery even though Yosef’s journey ultimately had a happy ending, and it was this subconscious fear which moved him to cry.

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.

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

1)     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)

2)     Is a non-Jew who converts to Judaism required to immerse all of his utensils in a mikvah, as he is now legally considered a Jew who “acquired” them from a non-Jew, or does this law apply only when the Jew and non-Jew are two different people? (Darkei Teshuva Yoreh Deah 120:4, Zahav Sh’va, Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer 8:19-20, Tevilas Keilim 3:24)

3)     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)

© 2011 by Oizer Alport.