Dedicated for the Refuah Shelemah of Shlomo Yehudah ben Nicole Shoshana
Parashat Matot-Massei Making Vows This parasha begins by discussing nedarim. The English word closest to neder is “vow.” When someone makes a neder it becomes as binding as a commandment of the Torah, to the point that if the person violates the neder, there is a court-imposed penalty. For instance, if a person takes a neder to abstain from drinking wine, the wine now takes on the same status as pork. For that person, the thing which the vow prohibits has a new halachik status. The parasha begins, “Moshe spoke to the heads of the tribes of B’nei Yisrael, saying, ‘This is the thing that Hashem has commanded: If a man makes a vow to Hashem or swears an oath to establish a prohibition upon himself, he shall not desecrate his word, according to whatever comes from his mouth, he shall do.’” We learn from this that nedarim are a very serious matter and that we cannot take them lightly. The closest we come to a neder today is when we pledge to make a donation. Many times, those pledges are made when we have an aliya and are standing by the sefer Torah. When we perform a mitzvah, it is said that we create an angel, and that angel will advocate for us in shamayim. When we make a pledge to give a donation, we are creating half an angel, and that angel is not fully completed until we pay what we promised. Our Rabbis teach us that these half-completed angels cannot help us, and in fact, they can actually hurt us. We must make it our business to always honor our pledges. In order to protect ourselves, it is recommended that we say bli neder—without a vow when we make a pledge. We should be in the practice of saying bli neder after pledging to make a donation or making any promise that could be considered a neder. The parasha then discusses nedarim in terms of a man’s wife or daughter under the age of twelve. In passuk 6 it states, “But if her father restrained her on the day of his hearing, all her vows or prohibitions that she established upon herself shall not stand; Hashem will forgive her, for her father had restrained her.” Rashi comments that this refers to a girl who made a neder but didn’t know that her father had revoked it. Then she purposely violated the neder. Technically she didn’t sin because there was no neder at the time, since her father had revoked it, but she still requires forgiveness and atonement. The Rabbis compare this to a person who meant to eat non-kosher food. For example, someone ate a hot dog from a street vendor who is not known to sell kosher food, but by chance the hot dog he ate was actually kosher. Even though the meat was kosher, and no sin was committed, he still would need atonement for his intention to sin. Sincere Prayer “Send out one thousand soldiers per tribe (31:4).” When the Jews went to war with Midian, we learn from the midrash that there were three groups of one thousand sent out from every shevet—tribe. One group went to fight, one went to protect, and the last group was sent out to pray for the success and safety of the soldiers. In his book, Yosif Daas: Growing with the Parasha, Rabbi Yosef Wahrman discusses this incident. Why was it necessary to send a group from each shevet out to pray? Couldn’t B’nei Yisrael just be instructed to pray from their homes? Rabbi Wahrman brings down a Gemara, saying that there is a well-known mitzvah to visit the sick, and when one visits an ill person, he should go in the evening, rather than the morning. Why? Because a sick person is usually in better condition earlier in the day, and if the visitor sees the ill person in a better state, he will not be as encouraged to pray for him. When one sees how sick the person truly is, the visitor will be inspired to pray a sincere and heartfelt prayer. While it’s true all B’nei Yisrael were encouraged to pray for the soldiers’ safety, twelve thousand people were sent to see the dangers of the war firsthand so they could pray with deeper sincerity. It was necessary for members of each shevet to see their close relatives and tribe members in danger. If we don’t have access to seeing who we are praying for, we learn from this that we should try our absolute hardest to visualize the plight of the individual in need, so we can pray sincerely and wholeheartedly and bring them salvation. Amen! Your Money or Your Kids? Later in the parasha we are told that the descendants of Gad and Reuven said to Moshe that before going to war, “We will build pens for the flocks of sheep and cities for our small children (32:16).” The phrasing suggests that they gave priority to their flocks over their children. Why would they do this? Moshe later criticized them by reversing the order of the words they used, “Build for yourself cities for your small children and pens for your flock.” We also may be guilty of the same thing with our children. At the time of the pidyon haben the kohen asks the father “Do you want the money or your son?” Naturally, it is not a question that is meant to indicate an actual real-life choice, and the kohen would refuse to take the child if the father said he preferred the money. The question is intended to send a message to the father about his duties as a parent and how he must always put his child first. But as children grow up, many parents work very hard and don’t give the proper time to their children, and the implication could be drawn that they are putting their money ahead of their children. Many children today lack a good relationship with their parents because their parents are busy all day at work. Then when the parents come home, they bring their work with them or spend their free time on their cell phones. The children grow up with a lack of the proper guidance and attention. They then look elsewhere — like the streets — for that missing attention, which can only lead them to trouble! Let us not sacrifice our family and relationships over the pursuit of material things. Smartphones are here to make our lives easier, but not to control us, and make us addicted and unsociable. It’s not too late to return to a real family life, back to the old days when we didn’t have the Internet and computer games. Put down that phone for a while. Talk to your children, your spouse, or your friends. Set a good example for your children. Whatever you do, they will also do. Talk to the people you love and make sure they feel loved. And you can receive love from them too. Our children didn’t ask to be brought into a world with so many difficulties, and we must provide them with the best opportunities to achieve growth and happiness. We must teach them discipline and give them good self-esteem by praising their accomplishments so that they will grow to be respectful and upstanding contributors to society, be’ezrat Hashem! Life is a Journey Rabbi Frand beings down a beautiful chiddush. In Parashat Massei, the Torah lists the forty-two encampments that Klal Yisrael stopped at during their journey from Egypt into Eretz Yisrael. This information seems like irrelevant ancient history. Yet the Torah spends a considerable amount of pesukim telling us every stop, utilizing the formula “They traveled from A and they encamped at B; and they traveled from B and encamped at C; and so forth” cataloging 40 years and 42 stops of travels in the wilderness. Many of the names of these stops call to mind less than stellar moments in the history of the Jewish people. For instance, the passuk writes, “And they traveled from Refidim and they encamped in the Wilderness of Sinai (Bamidbar 33:15).” Why was that location called Refidim? Chazal say, “She’Rafu yedehem min haTorah—they failed to learn properly” and as a result they were attacked by Amalek. This is not one of the more glorious moments in the history of Klal Yisrael. How do people look back on the less than glorious moments in their life’s history? The tendency of human beings is to forget it and to wipe the slate clean. The Torah teaches here that it is important to remember our past even if that past includes incidents that don’t make us proud. The only way we will know how to be better in the future is to learn from our past. A philosopher, George Santayana, once said “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” The reason the Torah catalogs the 42 encampments, even those with negative associations, is to teach us, yes, there were moments in your past in which you fell down, but you were able to bounce back. There were moments in your history in which you did not act properly, but you were able to pull yourselves out by your strength of character. Life is a journey. The journey is sometimes not a straight line — it has ups and downs, peaks and valleys. There are glorious moments and less than glorious moments. We should not erase any of them from our memory banks. The Month of “Av” Rabbi Mansour reminds us that Matot and Massei are read during this time of year to teach us the severity of sins of speech. The Talmud (Yoma 9b) teaches that the Second Temple was destroyed because of sinat chinam—baseless hatred. The Gemara explains that in the time of the Second Temple people would eat and drink with each other, but “they would stab each other with verbal barbs (Yechezkel 21:17).” In other words, the sinat chinam was expressed in the way in which people spoke to each other. Although the Talmud attributes the destruction of the Second Temple to this sin, the rabbis teach that every generation during which the Temple is not rebuilt, it is as if it was destroyed in their days. Therefore, it is certainly no coincidence that we read of the sins of speech, the primary cause of the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash, during these Three Weeks. The Midrash comments, “And when a man takes a vow a person does not know his end.” What is the relationship between knowing one’s end and taking a vow? The Rabbis apparently see a connection between mortality and speech. Indeed, the very first sin recorded in the Torah was when Chava spoke to the serpent, resulting in introducing death to the world. Mortality is the result of the sins of speech. Once a word is uttered, it cannot be taken back. Of course, as the rabbis teach us, one can also do great things with one’s mouth, such as limud Torah, prayer, and praising Hashem for all He does for us. The Three Weeks are a time of Hester Panim, where Hashem is hiding His face, but He is still in control and running the world behind the scenes. Even so, the month we’re approaching is Rosh Chodesh Av, and the Rabbi’s say that the month is called Av because Hashem is our Father in Heaven and is always watching over us. The following is an amazing story told by the Mitzvah Man himself. Last week, someone called Mitzvah Man and said, “My friend is in his 40s, and he never put on tefillin before. Can you get him a pair of tefillin?” Michael Cohen, Mitzvah Man, said, “Sure. Please fill out these forms, and we can get your friend a beautiful brand-new pair of tefillin and a koracha.” The man said, “My friend does not want to take a new, donated pair, he just wants a used pair of tefillin, and he wants you to bring it to him to put it on for the very first time.” In his head, Michael thought, I know how to get a new pair, but where could I possibly find a used set of tefillin? That second, a call came in on his other line. He told the man, “Hold on a few seconds, I have another call.” He jumped on the other line, and it was another call for Mitzvah Man. “Hi, my grandfather passed away a few months ago. We are cleaning out his apartment and we came across his tefillin. Do you know anybody that could benefit from a set of used tefillin?” The next day, a man was able to put on tefillin for the first time in 40 years. This story is absolutely incredible. When a person has it in his mind to do good, and to do chessed leshem shamayim, Hashem gives him the tools to perform the mitzvah he set out to do. Michael Cohen is a shaliach—messenger from Hashem, serving the community for years and years, and Hashem is holding his hand every step of the way. May we all be so very cognizant of the words that we say so that we don’t make any nedarim that we cannot keep. We should always remember to pay our donations, or at least say bli neder when pledging, so that we don’t create half-angels. May we also know our priorities by putting our children’s best interests above our business interests. The time spent with our children is an everlasting investment, as opposed to our business matters, which are only temporary. And may we always remember that Hashem is our Av, watching over us and running the world, even behind the scenes in these Three Weeks leading up to Tish’a B’Av. Shabbat Shalom! Rabbi Amram Sananes, written by Jack Rahmey Discussion Points: · Are we careful with any nedarim that we might make in order not to break them?
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