Commentary on Parashat Matot

This week the reading in the Synagogues around the world is called, Matot. “Matot” is from the book of Numbers chapter 30:1-32:42, and the name is taken from the first verse of the reading: “Then Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes concerning the children of Israel, saying, “This is the thing which the LORD has commanded:”” (Num. 30:1). The word “Mate” means “staff” – the same word is used for the wooden staff of Moses, and also for the staff of the generals in the Israeli Army.  In the English translation of the verse it was rendered “the heads of the tribes.” The first major topic that is dealt with in chapter 30 is the issue of what oath or vows a person speaks out of mouth. In short, according to the text a man is obligated to keep his vows, his oath to man or to God are obligatory and sacred.  This is what the Lord says: “If a man makes a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath to bind himself by some agreement, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.”

Now the next issue that the Torah brings is not politically correct these days. There is a difference in obligation of a woman to her vow and her oath from that of a man. If a woman a daughter or a wife made a vow or promised a promise and her father hears about it the same day – her father or her husband can annul the vow or the promise that the woman made.  You ought to read the text in Numbers 30 in order to understand better the details. There are of course many explanations why God made this difference between the obligation of a man and a woman. The bottom line is that it was done for the protection of a woman. I personally wish that there were a way in which a man could have his oath to God and to man annulled.  There is no way to annul man’s vow or promise before the Lord. For this very reason Yeshua gave this instruction to HIS disciples: “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your “Yes’ be “Yes,’ and your “No,’ ‘No’. For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.” (Matt. 5:33-37)

Yeshua is doing something very rabbinical in this teaching. He is building a fence around the commandment of God. God said in the Torah if you take make a vow or take an oath you must keep it.  There is no way that you can be delivered from that oath or vow if you are a man. Yeshua comes and says, don’t take an oath or make a vow at all. Just be faithful to your words and if you promise something keep it, just say “Yes” or “No.” This is all that is necessary for people who are honest and have integrity. If more is required that means that there is no trust and no confidence in the faithfulness and trustworthiness of the person you are about to do business with. In this case it might better not to do business with people that their words and promises are not trustworthy.

The second point that Yeshua brings is that most of the time that people make a vow or take an oath they hang their vow or oath by someone greater than themselves. People say: “By God, I will do this!”  – “By the temple of God” – “By Heaven . . .” In fact they could swear by their own Mother or Father if they wish, but it does not make their words worth more than just a simple “Yes” or “No” of a person who is honest and trustworthy.

This teaching of the Lord is often time ignored and “Words” and promises often don’t mean much or carry a serious obligation in our days. I have had elders of a church who sat in a meeting with me and made promises, and when they went home and told their wives what they committed to, their wives changed their mind. They called me back and said, “Joseph it would be better for you to forget what we decided in the elders meeting! It is not going to happen.”  – I said, “but you made this commitment and I have it recorded on tape.” The next day these same elders actually resolved the problem on a personal basis and not and from the congregation. They were honest man and they kept their promise unofficially without everyone, including their wives, knowing it.

As you can see from this Torah portion, Yeshua is like a good Rabbi making a fence of protection around the commandment to keep us on the safe side and prevent us from falling in disobedience to God’s command.

This article is a portion from the Jerusalem Prayer List July 29, 2016 by Netivyah Bible Instruction Ministry, and reposted with permission.