Parshios Matos & Masei
"If a man takes a vow to Hashem..." (30:3)
This week's parsha introduces the laws governing "nedarim" and "shevuos" -
vows and oaths. Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi, the compiler of the Mishna categorized
the Oral Law into six orders, the "Shisha Sidrei Mishna". The third of the
six orders is Seder Nashim, the laws concerning relationships between men
and women. The third tractate in Seder Nashim is Mesichta Nedarim. This
tractate discusses the definitions and interpretations of the differing
phraseology and formulae which may be used when invoking a vow or oath.
In his commentary on the Mishna, the Rambam questions the appropriateness of
placing Nedarim in Seder Nashim. What is the connection between vows and
oaths and man-woman relationships? The Rambam answers that since the
Mesichta discusses the type of vows which a man may annul for his wife,
Nedarim is appropriately placed in Seder Nashim. However, the laws
governing a man's ability to annul his wife's vows are only introduced in
chapter ten of the tractate. If the primary reason for the tractate's
placement in Seder Nashim is these particular laws, why did Rabbi Yehuda
Hanassi wait until chapter ten to discuss them?
Perhaps another answer to the Rambam's difficulty can be offered. The
primary focus of the tractate is the sensitivity to the particular nuances
and inflections contained within speech. Speech gives man his ability to
communicate, and to communicate well, a person must have this sensitivity.
Communication is of utmost importance in marriage, and therefore, the
tractate which focuses on the sensitivity that allows for enhanced
communication is appropriately placed in the Order governing man-woman
"...he shall not desecrate his word; according to whatever comes from his
mouth shall he do" (30:3)
The Midrash teaches that one who delays fulfilling his vows is cast to the
sea; we see this in the case of Yonah, who had vowed to go to Ninveh and
subsequent to his delaying to do so, was cast into the sea. Why is this
the appropriate punishment? What motivates a person to delay fulfilling his
obligations? The Talmud states that invoking a vow is akin to building a
bumah, a privately owned altar. What is the meaning of this comparison?
The reason why a person needs a vow to strengthen his convictions is that if
he makes a commitment without a vow, he may change his mind. He therefore
needs Hashem's assistance to enforce him staying true to his convictions. He
receives this assistance by invoking a vow, which is a G-d-given power that
binds man. Utilizing Hashem for one's own personal needs is akin to building
an altar for private use in one's backyard, rather than using the communal
The knowledge that a person requires Hashem's assistance to meet his
personal needs creates a strong sense of indebtedness. Concerning this type
of relationship Shlomom Hamelech said "eved loveh le'ish malveh" - "the
borrower becomes the slave of the lender". It is common to find people
who owe money, yet delay repaying it although it is available to them. By
delaying the payment they restructure the relationship; instead of being
controlled by the lender, they control him. Similarly, a person delaying
fulfilling his vows gives him the feeling that he is not totally indebted,
rather he has some control over his relationship with Hashem. Therefore, his
punishment is being cast into the sea, a place where man has absolutely no
control. Since his actions were motivated by the desire to control, his
punishment obliterates any perception that he may actually be in control.
1.Yalkut Shimoni Mattos #30
An Intimate Vision
"...This is the thing that Hashem has commanded" (30:2)
Moshe instructs the heads of the tribes with the expression "Zeh hadavar
asher tziva Hashem" - "This is the thing that Hashem has commanded." Rashi
comments that whereas Moshe's prophecy is introduced by either "zeh hadavar"
- "this is the thing" or "ko amar Hashem" - "so says Hashem", the prophecies
of other prophets are only introduced with the expression "ko amar
Hashem". The Mizrachi explains that "ko amar" intimates an approximation,
while "zeh hadavar" indicates that the information to follow is exactly what
Hashem said. Moshe was the only prophet to receive his prophecy with
"aspaklaria hameira" - "a clear lens", a flawless perception of what Hashem
was telling him. All other prophets had an "aspaklaria she'aina meira" - "an
unclear lens"; they did not have an exact perception of Hashem's words.
Therefore, Moshe's prophecies were introduced with "zeh hadavar", while the
other prophets' were introduced with "ko amar".
The Maharal finds the Mizrachi's explanation untenable for the following
reason: In the Torah we find Moshe using the expression "ko amar Hashem"
over a dozen times. It is difficult to assume that on these occasions Moshe
received prophecy on a lower level. If Moshe's prophecy always maintained
the same elevated level, how do we account for the different terminology
introducing his prophecy?
Moshe's prophecy is unique in two ways. First, he has perfect perception of
what he is being told, and second, he has the ability to relay the
information in a manner by which the recipient hears it directly from
Hashem. This concept is known as "Shechina medaberes mitoch grono" - "The
Divine Presence speaks from his throat." This second element not only
allows Bnei Yisroel to hear the complete and unadulterated directive from
Hashem, but gives them a certain intimacy with Hashem as well, for He is
speaking with them and not through an intermediary. All of the other
prophets could not give Bnei Yisroel this close relationship.
Moshe's use of the expression "ko amar" does not denote a lower level of his
perception of the prophecy, rather that Moshe's transmission of the prophecy
to the recipient is lacking the intimacy of direct communication from
Hashem. The majority of the occasions upon which Moshe uses the expression
"ko amar" are when relaying Hashem's message to Pharoah. It is therefore
understandable that this intimacy is missing. The only exception is by the
sin of the Golden Calf, when Moshe also uses the expression "ko amar".
The reason for this is that Bnei Yisroel's sin of the Golden Calf was in
their desiring an intermediary to replace Moshe. This indicated that they
did not appreciate the intimacy that existed between them and Hashem, for
Moshe did not function as an intermediary. Therefore, that close
relationship was lost, as indicated by Moshe addressing them with the
expression "ko amar".
2. Yevamos 49b
4. Gur Aryeh ibid
5.Zohar Pinchas 232.
6. See Shemos 10:3, 11:4, etc.
7. 32:27 There is one other exception that will be dealt with in a future