by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman
The spoken word is sacred.
The parsha opens with an admonition to the tribal heads to tell the people that they must keep their oaths and not break their word. Immediately thereafter it deals with vows made by a woman, and their possible annulment by her husband or father. How do these ideas connect?
The linkage is the concept of shalom bayit- peace in the home. Peace on the macro level and peace on the micro level. Both the national home and the domestic home. Peace in the individual home between husband and wife, and peace in the House of Israel between the tribes.
This concept of peace and tranquility begins to break down when people don't keep the promises that they made- whether under the chuppah of their own wedding or Israel's National Chuppah (between Israel and the Shechinah, G*d's Divine Presence) at Sinai. When either spouse puts his or her personal interests above that of the union, then the harmony and peace within the family begins to unravel. The covenant of the holy bond must be stronger than the private interests of either party.
Peace within the nation ofIsrael similarly begins to break down when various factions- the "tribes ofIsrael," appear to put their own personal interests above that of the national well-being. In Numbers 30: 3, in the context of the laws of vows, it says: K'CHAWL HAYOTZEI MIPIV YA'ASEH- "he must do as he says," in the singular. And then a bit further it uses similar phraseology in the context of the desires of the tribes, Reuben and Gad, to settle the TransJordan (East Bank), away from the other tribes who were to be settled in CisJordan (West Bank). In Numbers 32:24 it says: VEHAYOTZAI MIPICHEM TA'ASU - "and as you say so shall you do," in the plural. Same verb (Y-TZ-A). Whether plural or singular, whether for individuals or for larger corporate entities (eg. tribes), the law is the same. No exceptions. It is seen as a great sin not to keep one's word.
Interestingly, we contrast two petitioners in this double parsha, one a family and one a tribal consortium: the daughters of Tzelaphchad, and the Reubenites and Gaddites and "half" of the Mannasites respectively. Both petition regarding land inheritance. Both ask for emendations to the original terms of allotment. But what's the difference between them? The request of the daughters was accepted "as is." The request of the tribes was not.
They tribes had phrased their request one way, but G*d acceeded to it with a switch. They said that they would build GIDROT TZON (enclosures for their sheep) and ARIM LETAPEINU (cities for our children). G*d allows their request but reverses the order: (Numbers 32:24) B'NU LACHEM ARIM LETAPCHEM U'GDEROT L'TZONA'ACHEM V'HAYOTZAI MIPICHEM TA'ASU : " Build for yourselves cities for your children and enclosures for your sheep- but keep your word." That is, HONOR THE VOW you made to your brethren to fight with them, and put your children's welfare above that of your financial/economic interests. First come your children. And only then come the sheep. Honor the vow you made by agreeing to the words of the shema and ve'ahavta , VESHINANTAM LEVANECHA, that you will teach your children Torah. If you're too busy with the sheep, who's going to teach them Torah? Don't outsource morality!
Why no addendums to the daughters' request? Because it was rooted in loyalty to all the generations. It was borne of a desire to honor their father's memory and therefore their children's welfare was implicitly assured. Where the tribes' request was rooted in economics, no familial fealty was inherently assured.
And so we come full circle linking the themes of this double parsha.. We see a connection between the daughters of Tzelaphchad in the last words of Massai, and the laws of vow annulment in the first words of Mattot. The specific merits of the daughters of Tzelaphchad are writ large in general for all the holy daughters of Israel. And that is why the tribes must be told to "keep their word," but not the"daughters." It is beyond imagination to suspect a daughter not to "keep her word" to honor her father or not to "keep her word" to care for her child above all else. The holy daughters of Israel inherently keep their word. No one need tell them they must.
And how fitting to conclude all of Sefer Bamidbar with the daughters. And now they are named!
Were the daughters of Noah named? Were the daughters of Lot named? It's as if only when the women assert their rightful power and press their rightful claims does the Torah validate them by recognizing them by name. Sefer Bamidbar (The Book of Numbers) starts with a census of mere numbers but ends with a recognition of righteous and holy names!
Finally, when the two and a half tribes ask permission to settle on the east bank, they impose upon themselves a special condition: (Numbers 32:17): VA'ANACHNU NE-CHALETZ CHUSHIM LIFNAY B'NAI YISRAEL... " and we shall place ourselves at the VANGUARD (CH-L-TZ -chalutz) of the children of Israel." In other words, as a special act of obligation and commitment to their brethren, they vow to place themselves FIRST, ahead of their brethren, in the tribes' quest to acquire their inheritance. It's about inheritance. Whether the Daughters of Tzelaphchad's inheritance, or the tribal inheritance of the land of Israel.
Interestingly, when a brother refuses to honor his brother's memory by not marrying his brother's childless wife to name the first born (VANGUARD) of her womb in memory of the deceased brother, the ceremony where he is shamed for not doing his familial levirite duty is called the CHALITZAH ceremony. Because it's all about inheritance. That his deceased brother shall have a NAME in the LAND. For fraternal disloyalty he is disgraced. The name of the ceremony itself carries the weight of the burdens of an ancient pledge, the faint reverberating echoes of an ancient vow.
copyright 1999-2007 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman.
This Torah thought was written to honor the memory of my beloved father whose yahrzeit is this week, Tammuz 27, Israel J. Melman, obm, Yisrael Yehoshua ben HaRav Yaakov Hakohen Melman. His name was great in the land, and he always kept his word. May his neshama have the greatest aliyah.
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