Our parashah opens: "Moshe spoke to the heads of the tribes of Bnei
Yisrael, saying, `Zeh ha'davar / This is the word that Hashem has
commanded'." Rashi observes that many prophets (including Moshe)
introduced their messages with the phrase "Ko amar Hashem / So said
Hashem," but only Moshe introduced some of his messages with "Zeh
ha'davar / This is the word."
R' Yaakov Kaminetsky z"l (Rosh Yeshiva of Torah Vodaath; died 1986)
elaborates: Our Sages teach that all of the prophets saw their prophecies
with an "unclear vision," while Moshe saw with a "clear vision." In other
words, all prophets (besides Moshe) had to interpret the visions they saw,
a process that could be affected by the prophets' own personalities and
predilections. Moshe's prophecy was different; he understood exactly what
G-d meant and transmitted it literally and perfectly. He could say, "This
is the word that Hashem commanded."
Why is this message alluded to in our parashah? R' Kaminetsky explains:
The first section of Parashat Matot presents the laws of vows and oaths.
These laws demonstrate man's special status in that, through a vow or
oath, a person can, in effect, create new mitzvah obligations. For
example, if a person says, "I swear that I will eat this loaf of bread,"
it becomes a mitzvah for him to eat that loaf of bread. If a person
says, "Apples are forbidden to me like a sacrifice," it becomes a mitzvah
for him to refrain from having any benefit from apples. This ability of
man to enact new laws might lead one to question the Divine origin of the
Torah. Accordingly, the Torah chooses this context to inform us that
Moshe's prophecy - indeed, the transmission of the entire Torah - was a
literal transmission of Hashem's words. (Emet L'Yaakov)
"Moshe spoke to the heads of the tribes of Bnei Yisrael, saying, This
is the thing that Hashem has commanded: If a man takes a vow to Hashem or
swears an oath to establish a prohibition upon himself, he shall not
profane his word . . .'." (Bemidbar 30:2-3)
Our Sages derive from these verses that, although one may not nullify his
own vow, vows may, under certain circumstances, be nullified by qualified
rabbis. R' Itamar Schwartz shlita (of Yerushalayim) observes that this
halachah leads to an insight which can become a powerful tool in resisting
the temptation to speak lashon hara. He explains:
We are used to thinking that, once we have spoken, the words are gone and
we have no more connection to them. However, this cannot be true, for if
it were, how could vows be nullified? Nullifying a vow is, in effect,
taking back the words that one has spoken. How can one take the words
back if they are "gone"?
Rather, the correct understanding of speech is that the words we utter
become a part of us. (While this may be an esoteric concept, we see a
physical manifestation of it in the fact that our words form memories in
our minds, R' Schwartz observes.) Even more, our words form bonds between
us and the person about whom we speak. This is the secret behind the well-
known teaching that one who speaks lashon hara "receives all of the sins"
of the one about whom he spoke. By speaking about another person's
faults, one actually binds himself to those faults. [Conversely, this may
explain one of the benefits of relating stories about tzaddikim.]
(B'lvavi Mishkah Evneh Vol. V, p.237)
"He shall not desecrate his word; according to whatever comes from his
mouth shall he do." (30:3)
R' Yehoshua Leib Diskin z"l (1817-1898; rabbi of Brisk, Poland; later in
Yerushalayim) was once present at a hesped / eulogy for one his students.
Following the hesped, a "Kail Malai" was recited, and the assembled crowd
R' Diskin then approached the gabbai and handed him a coin. He said, "I
am giving this coin to charity in memory of the deceased on behalf of
everyone who was present today." He explained: When the gabbai recites a
Kail Malai, he often says the phrase, "in the merit that all of the
congregation promises to give charity on behalf of the elevation of the
soul (of the departed)." I, said R' Diskin, am afraid that people will
forget to fulfill this vow that was made on their behalf, so I am acting
as their representative. [Ed. note: Perhaps R' Diskin held that the "Amen"
recited after the Kail Malai effects acceptance of the vow. Note also that
the same concern arises with prayers for the ill.] (Quoted in Ve'karata
"Yose ben Yo'ezer of Tzreidah and Yose ben Yochanan of Yerushalayim
received [the tradition] from them. Yose ben Yo'ezer of Tzreidah says,
`Let your house be a meeting place for sages; sit in the dust of their
feet and drink in their words thirstily.'
"Yose ben Yochanan of Yerushalayim says, `Let your house be open wide;
treat the poor as members of your household; . . .'" (Chapter 1,
R' Yisrael Meir Lau shlita (former Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel) asks:
Why does the mishnah say that Yose and Yose received the tradition "from
them" (plural) when the previous mishnah lists only one leader--Antignos.
The answer, apparently, is that Yose and Yose originally were students of
Antignos' own teacher, Shimon Ha'tzaddik, who is mentioned two mishnayot
earlier. After the latter died, they continued to study under his
R' Lau notes that this supposition is borne out by the progression of the
lessons that each of these sages teaches in this chapter. First, Shimon
Ha'tzaddik teaches (mishnah 2), "The world depends on three things – on
Torah study, on the service of G-d, and on kind deeds."
Next comes Antignos, who highlights one of his teacher's three pillars --
service of G-d. Specifically, Antignos teaches (mishnah 3), "Do not be
like servants who serve G-d for the sake of receiving a reward…"
After him, Yose ben Yo'ezer stresses another of Shimon Ha'tzaddik's three
pillars -- Torah study. He teaches (mishnah 4), "Let your house be a
meeting place for sages . . . ."
Finally, Yose ben Yochanan emphasizes the remaining one of Shimon
Ha'tzaddik's three pillars -- kind deeds. Thus he teaches (mishnah
5), "Let your house be open wide; treat the poor as members of your
household...." (Yachel Yisrael)
What is meant by: "Treat the poor as members of your household"? R'
Shlomo Kluger z"l (1784-1869; rabbi of Brody, Galicia) explains: Just as a
man does not support his wife and children with any expectation of reward,
so one's intention in supporting the poor should not be to receive reward.
Alternatively, R' Kluger writes, the mishnah is teaching that just as one
not only feeds his family but also smiles at them and converses with them,
so one should act towards the poor who knock on his door. In this light,
we can understand why our mishnah includes the instruction, "Do not
converse excessively with women." Lest a man think that giving charity is
an excuse for acting in a familiar manner towards women, the mishnah
reminds us that this is not so. (Magen Avot)
R' Ben Zion Abba Shaul z"l
R' Ben Zion Abba Shaul was born in Yerushalayim in 1924 to R' Eliyahu, an
immigrant from Persia, and his wife, Benaya. Although a shoemaker by
trade, R' Eliyahu was also a dedicated scholar. Benaya, too, valued Torah
study; when she was pregnant with the future R' Ben Zion, she asked every
scholar she met to bless her that her son should grow up to be a talmid
At age 11, young Ben Zion entered Yeshivat Porat Yosef. His first teacher
was R' Yehuda Sadkah, who taught a class of young prodigies that also
included the future Chief Rabbi and renowned posek R' Ovadiah Yosef. R'
Ben Zion continued to progress to the highest class taught by R' Ezra
Attiah. Eventually, R' Ben Zion himself became rosh yeshiva.
When R' Ben Zion was about 20 years old, one of the leading American
sages, R' Eliezer Silver, came to Yeshivat Porat Yosef in the company of a
wealthy American who was investigating which yeshiva was most worthy of
his sizable donation. R' Ben Zion was chosen as the student to be tested
by R' Silver, who asked the young scholar a question in the obscure area
of Taharot (laws of ritual purity). When R' Ben Zion gave his answer, R'
Silver said that he had asked the same question 40 years earlier to R'
Meir Simcha Hakohen of Dvinsk (author of Ohr Sameach and Meshech Chochmah)
and had received the same answer. R' Ben Zion later told R' Attiah that
he had a second answer to the question as well, but since the first answer
sufficed to secure the donation, offering a second answer might have been
R' Ben Zion was recognized by Ashkenazic and Sephardic scholars alike for
his "amelut" (inadequately translated "effort" or "toil") at Torah study.
It is said that when he finished delivering a Torah lecture, he would
inevitably be soaked with perspiration. His hatmadah / diligence also was
legendary. As a young married man, he lived next door to R' Ovadiah Yosef
and even their walks to and from yeshiva together would be occupied with
reviewing pages of Talmud by heart.
R' Ben Zion encouraged the study of kabbalah, but only for those who had
purified their character traits. He used to say, "If a man doesn't know
how to get along with his wife, how can he learn kabbalah and be called a
Besides his scholarship, R' Ben Zion was known for giving blessings that
were fulfilled. When asked why he had this ability, he responded
humbly, "Hashem promised Avraham that anyone who blesses Avraham's
descendants will be blessed. When people come to me for blessings, they
kiss my hand, which is a form of blessing to me. Thus, they themselves
R' Ben Zion passed away on 19 Tammuz 5758 (1998). (Aleppo: City of
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ('lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah'), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
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