Parashas Mattos

This week’s parashah opens with a passage dealing with vows. The Torah tells us not to make our word profane. The simple meaning of this exhortation is that we should keep the vows we make. The Maggid takes the matter a level deeper. The Maggid says that the Torah is telling us not to make vows in a casual way. One who wishes to make a vow is obligated to take care that the vow comes from the depths of his heart, so that the words he utters will have sanctity. And if a person makes a vow with proper intent, he will surely gain the merit of keeping it. Thus, in regard to the pledges of materials for the Beis HaMikdash that the Jewish People made in response to David HaMelech’s call, it is written (Divrei HaYamim Aleph 29:9): “The people rejoiced in their pledges, for they had pledged wholeheartedly to Hashem.” Since the people had pledged wholeheartedly, they were sure that they would be able to fulfill their pledges, and therefore they rejoiced.
The same idea surfaces in the interchange between Moshe and the tribes of Reuven and Gad that appears later on in the parashah. Moshe tells these tribes that if they keep their pledge to help the rest of the Jewish People conquer the Land of Israel, they will then be granted the land they asked for. Moshe then continues (Bamidbar 32:23): “But if you do not [as you have pledged], behold – you have sinned against Hashem, and be aware that your sin will meet up with you.” On the surface, the Maggid says, it seems that Moshe was holding the tribes of Reuven and Gad to an impossible standard: How could they guarantee that they would be as committed to what they pledged when the time came to enter the Land of Israel as they were when they made the pledge? It seems untenable for people to make a promise about the intent they will have at a future time. But, in light of the idea brought out above, we can understand what Moshe meant. Moshe was telling the tribes of Reuven and Gad that it was their duty to make sure that they were making their vow wholeheartedly and with upright intent. By doing so, they would ensure from the outset that they would ultimately keep their pledge. And if they failed to make their pledge with proper intent and then reneged, it would be counted against them as a sin—not merely as of the time of the reneging, but as of the the time they made the pledge. The reneging would show that their initial intent was not wholehearted.
Shlomo HaMelech teaches (Koheles 5:3-4): “When you make a pledge to God, do not delay in paying it, for [He] has no liking for fools – what you pledge, pay. It is better not to pledge than to pledge and not pay.” Shlomo is telling us that it is better not to make a pledge at all than to make a pledge that is not wholehearted. In this vein, the Torah exhorts elsewhere (Devarim 23:24): “Guard the utterance of your lips, and fulfill what you vowed to Hashem your God, and the pledge of a voluntary offering that your mouth spoke out.” The Torah is telling us that if we guard the utterance of our lips by making only vows that are wholehearted, then we are guaranteed to merit fulfilling the vows we make.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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