Parashat Matot-Masei

August 5-6, 2016 – 2 Av 5776
Annual (Numbers 30:2-26:13): Etz Hayim p. 941; Hertz p. 702
Triennial (Numbers 33:50-36:13): Etz Hayim p. 957; Hertz p. 716
Haftarah (Jeremiah 2:4-28; 3:4): Etz Hayim p. 973; Hertz p. 725

PDF Matot-Masei 5776

Empowering Women 2000 Years Ago

Rabbi Joel Levy, CY Rosh Yeshiva

The start of Parashat Matot addresses the significance attached to religious oaths and vows. A man who makes a promise in God’s name binds himself to keep his word: (Bemidbar 30:3) “A man who vows a vow to YHVH or swears a sworn-oath… he is not to desecrate his word, according to all that goes out of his mouth, he is to do.”

I say “man” advisedly. For women the situation is more complicated; women portrayed in the parashah live so deeply under the authority of men that most of their vows are subject to a male veto.  Three categories of woman are described here:

  1. A young woman in her father’s house; the father may annul her vows when he hears them. (30:4-6)
  2. A married woman in her husband’s domain; here too her husband may annul her vows. (30:7-9, 11-16)
  3. A widow or divorcee; she may make religious vows free of male interference. (30:10)

Women in categories 1 and 2 have a mediated relationship with God. The men with and under whom they live have the authority to prevent them from making binding vows.

We today are disturbed by the idea that a woman needs to wait for divorce/bereavement to experience the full freedom of an unmediated relationship with God! Interestingly, the early rabbis were also unhappy with this.  In a beautiful, radical midrash-halacha in the Sifri they work over verse 30:4: “And a woman, when she vows a vow to YHVH…in her father’s house while in her youth [וְאִשָּׁה… בְּבֵית אָבִיהָ בִּנְעֻרֶיהָ:]to create a totally new category of woman:

and a woman” – Do I hear from this once she is an adult?!  The Torah says “in her father’s house while in her youth.”  If it is “in her youth,” do I hear from this that it applies even to a minor?! The Torah says (v.4): “a woman”. How do we reconcile the words? It refers to one who is no longer a minor but has not yet achieved majority.  From here the rabbis said: “A girl who is from twelve years-old and one day up, her vows are upheld.”

Category 1, the girl still living with her father, must refer to someone who has the power to make a vow but who may also have their vows overturned by their father. The midrash limits that category to a very brief period of time: she must be an in-betweener, we might say a teenager, from 12-12.5 years old. The rabbis say that category 1 only applies to this six month period.

By subtle reading and sleight of hand the rabbis are making a huge innovation here – that once a woman is older than 12.5, even if she still resides in her father’s home, she is religiously a free agent. The rabbis create a fourth category of woman – an adult, single, unmarried female not subordinate to male authority.  Don’t underestimate how radical this change is in women’s status. The rabbis are systematically undermining the power of a father to control his adult daughter’s life after the age of 12.5.  2000 years ago they carved out this new fourth category in order to limit male power. Our job is to complete the process.

A Vort for Parashat Hukkat
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty

Num 35:6 calls for six cities of refuge to which people who had committed manslaughter (unintentional homicide) could flee, and 42 additional towns to be under supervision of the Levites. The Oheiv Yisrael, R’ Avraham Yehoshua Heshel (1748-1825, Poland/Ukraine, the Apter Rebbe, and paternal great-great-grandfather of the late Prof. A.J Heschel) said that the six cities stand for the six words of Shma Yisrael, and the 42 for the words of the paragraphV’ahavta et HaShem Elokecha.  Any Jew who accepts God’s sovereignty by reciting the Shma and expresses love for God and Am Yisrael in the V’ahavtawill find strength and be better able to deal with the forces from which he/she is seeking refuge.

Table Talk
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty

This double Parasha contains many topics, several of them forming closing chapters to events that appeared in earlier Parashot, others are looking forward to the entry into the Land of Israel, just across the Jordan River.

1) Moshe is instructed to send an army representing all the tribes to take revenge from the Midianites (the story appears in 22:4-7, 25:6-18). Who is the Kohen leading the army? Why might he have been chosen (31:1-8)?

2) The land that was conquered in trans-Jordan (the story appears in 21:21-35) is very lucrative. Who wants it and why do they want it (32:1-5)? Moshe has 2 objections to their request. What are they and which seems to be the one that truly bothers him? How do you know (32:6-15)?

3) In preparation for dividing the land west of the Jordan its borders are listed (chapte34). One tribe is not receiving a territory, but will be scattered among all the tribes. What tribe is that? How will it be determined how many towns each tribe will give them? What special cities are included among their towns (35:1-8)?


4) Who escapes to the Cities of Refuge (35:9-25)? What might happen to this person if he does not escape (and remains in) the City of Refuge? Who decides if the person is entitled to remain there? If he deserves to stay, when will he be able to leave safely?

5) Granting the daughters of Tzlofhad the right to inherit land (the story appears in 27:1-11) raised concerns. Who is concerned and what is the problem that they foresee (36:1-10)? What solution is proposed? Do the daughters of Tzlofhad accept the solution?

Chazak Chazak V’Nitchazek!