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Parshas Matos

Rabbi Pesach Siegel

Parshat Matos

Oct 21, 2009



Parshas Matos begins with the laws of oaths and vows. We learn from this parsha that speech is a reality. It is not just a sequence of guttural emissions to facilitate communication. When one makes a neder he is forced to act in accordance with his word. Although a vehicle exists for the nullification of personal nedarim, nedarim made in public create such a reality that there is no possibility of hatarah (nullification). The power of speech is to create. The posuk says "Hu amar vayehi", Hash-em spoke and it was. Man was created in the tzelem elokim and has the ability to create with speech. What man says, is.

Immediately following the parsha of nedarim is the command to wreak vengeance against Midian. The posuk states that Moshe Rabeinu's life is intertwined with the war against Midian. He is commanded to wage war against Midian and then his time would come to depart from this world.

What is the bond between Moshe's life and eradicating Midian? Why is the proper place for this to be mentioned following the discussion of the laws of nedorim?

Furthermore, the meforshim note that despite the fact that Moshe was aware that upon ending the war his death was imminent, he didn't hesitate to fulfill Hashem's command with zrizus. He immediately delegated the responsibility to Pinchos. If this mitzvah was so incumbent upon Moshe to perform, why delegate?

The gemora in meseches sanhedrin derives the sheva mitzvos bnei Noach from the following posuk. "Vayetzav Hashem Elokim al haAdam laymor etc. "Vayetzav" refers to setting up a judicial system, "Hashem" - the prohibition of cursing the name of Hashem, "Elokim" - avoda zara, "al haAdam" - murder, "laymor" - immorality, etc.

Why is the word "laymor" (to say over) the source for the issur of giluy arayos? What relevance does speech have with immorality?

A relationship exists between the power of speech and the ability to connect with others. A human being is the only creature capable of calculated speech. Likewise, he is the only one able to forge bonds, e.g. "kinyanim". An animal cannot acquire anything or perform a kiddushin.

One who someone associates with, he communicates with. Chazal say, the way to "take" a human being is with speech. A ben adam who is held captive against his will is not really "one" with his captor. This is the understanding behind the prohibition of excessively conversing with a woman. Tefilla, prayer, is not just an expression of our desires. It is an act of relating and connecting to the One Above through speech.

One who is in control of his power of speech is automatically in control of his relationships. One follows the other. Now, the words of the gemora in sanhedrin become clear to us. The word "laymor" is indicative of guarding one's sphere of relationships. Hence, it is the source for the issur of giluy arayos.

The parsha of nedorim instructs us to be true to our word. Our speech is what links us to Hashem, and to be untrue to our word is to be unfaithful to Him.

Bilaam opposed this. He attacked Klal Yisroel with his power of speech. He attempted to curse the Bnei Yisroel, severing their bond with the Creator. He caused them to commit acts of immorality with the bnos Moav, totally distorting the true concept and purpose of human relationships. He created a flaw within Klal Yisroel which needed to be corrected.

Moshe Rabeinu's role in Klal Yisroel was that he mouthed the words of the Shechina. The words of the Shechina emanated from his throat. The posuk says, "peh el peh adaber bo" , "I speak with him mouth to mouth". His speech was a faithful rendition of Hashem's will. His speech was not a normal one. He was "aral sefasoyim". He represented the koach hadibbur that we must strive for and will attain in the times of Moshiach's coming. He is the "anti-Bilaam".

It is therefore understood why Moshe cannot leave the world until he has removed the impact that was made by Bilaam on his people. The actual fighting of the war was not his mission, but rather the enabling of Klal Yisroel to fight that war. The Ohr Hachaim points out that Moshe Rabeinu did not enlist soldiers, he called for them to volunteer (perek 31, posuk 3). He needed to be certain that the ones fighting the war would be free from any taint of the bnos Midian. He left it up to the people themselves. Only one who was confident that he was unaffected by the impact that these women made on the Bnei Yisroel would come forth. Chazal say that he appointed 12,000 men as soldiers, another 12,000 men as armor bearers, and an additional 12,000 men to offer prayers to Hashem. He arranged the "strategy" of the war through his koach hadibbur, not by actually going out and joining the fighting.

Perhaps, in light of the above, we can understand the words of the Targum Yonason. Bilaam used the powers of "tumah" to enable himself to be borne aloft in the air. Pinchos exposes him to the tzitz hazahav of the cohen gadol. Bilaam plummets earthward. As Pinchos rises to slay him, he beseeches Pinchos and assures him that if he spares his life he will take an oath never to attempt to lay a curse on the Bnei Yisroel. Pinchos replies, "You are Lavan haArami who tried to destroy Yaakov Aveinu, when that failed you descended to Mitzrayim to advise Pharaoh in our destruction. You set Amalek upon us when we emerged from Mitzrayim, you tried to curse us, and when that failed you advised Balak to send out the daughters of Moav to waylay us. You have no right to live".

As a result of Bilaam's constant use of the power of speech to destroy the Bnei Yisroel, his "shvuah" (oath) cannot save him. Thus we see an additional connection between the laws of nedarim and parshas Bilaam.

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