SALT - Thursday, 22 Tammuz 5779 - July 25, 2019

  • Rav David Silverberg
This week's SALT shiurim are dedicated in memory of my grandfather
Rav Yehuda Leib Silverberg z"l, whose yahrzeit is
Thursday 22 Tamuz, July 25
            Parashat Matot begins by telling that Moshe related to the “rashei ha-matot” – the nation’s leaders – the various commands relevant to the vows which one accepts upon himself.
            Various explanations have been suggested for why these commands were specifically presented to the nation’s leaders.  Rashi comments that in truth, all the Torah’s laws were first presented to the leadership before they were then conveyed to the rest of Benei Yisrael.  This point is mentioned specifically in the context of nedarim (vows), Rashi writes, as an allusion to the special status of scholars with regard to this area of Halakha, as a scholar has the authority to annul a vow on his own – something which otherwise requires a tribunal of three people.  By making mention of the “rashei ha-matot” in this context, the Torah indicates that the scholarly elite play a special role in regard to nedarim, as a lone scholar has the authority of a court when it comes to the annulment of vows.  (Rashi’s comment is sourced in the Gemara, Masekhet Nedarim 78a.)
            Ibn Ezra boldly suggests that this section appears out of chronological sequence, as Moshe relayed these commands to the leaders after the promise made by the tribes of Reuven and Gad to join the other tribes in the war to capture the Land of Israel.  As we read later in Parashat Matot, these tribes requested permission to permanently settle the land east of the Jordan River, rather than settle with the other tribes across the river.  Moshe agreed on condition that the men and of Reuven and Gad would fight alongside the other tribes in the war to capture Eretz Yisrael.  He instructed Elazar (the kohen gadol), Yehoshua (his successor) and “rashei avot ha-matot” (the leaders of the tribes) to ensure that Reuven and Gad uphold their commitment, and join the war effort, as a condition for their right to permanently settle the land east of the Jordan (32:28).  Ibn Ezra thus suggests that once Moshe was instructing the leaders to ensure Reuven and Gad met their commitment, he spoke to them in general about the requirement to fulfill pledges.
            Ramban suggests – in contrast to Rashi – that Moshe presented these laws specifically to the leaders, and not to the rest of the nation.  This section elaborates on the authority given to a father to annul vows taken by his daughter, and to a husband to annul vows taken by his daughter.  The Ramban speculates that Moshe did not want this information presented to the masses (at least not at this point), lest it lead them to treat vows lightly, seeing how easily a daughter or wife’s vows can be dismissed.
            Netziv, in Ha’ameik Davar, explains that it was especially common for people to take vows during times of crisis, and then renege on their pledges after the crisis passed.  And so Moshe spoke to the leaders, who were responsible for enforcing the Torah’s laws, to pay special attention to this phenomenon and to do what they can to ensure the people’s compliance with their nedarim
            Ba’al Ha-turim similarly notes that it was the leaders’ responsibility to ensure the people’s fulfillment of their vows, though he adds also a different explanation – that it was customary in times of war for leaders to make pledges to God.  A famous example is the vow taken by the general Yiftach before he went out to war against Amon, promising that if he returned home victorious, he would sacrifice the first creature that greeted him (Shoftim 11:30-31).  Ba’al Ha-turim notes also the example of the generals who returned from the war against Midyan and brought a special offering to the Mishkan, as we read later in Parashat Matot (31:48).  Apparently, Ba’al Ha-turim understood that the leaders of the war effort vowed to bring a donation if the campaign was successful, and their gift to the Mishkan marked the fulfillment of this pledge, serving as another example of how leaders would make pledges before warfare.  For this reason, according to Ba’al Ha-turim, Moshe presented the laws of nedarim specifically to the leaders, as they were the ones who commonly made vows.