Moses spoke unto the heads of the tribes" [30:2]
The reason why
he did not address this section to the entire people is because it was not necessary
to teach all the children of Israel that the father and the husband can declare
void those vows [of their daughter or wife, respectively] which involve affliction
of the soul, and perhaps it is necessary to conceal this right from them, so that
they should not treat vows so lightly. But it was to the Sages of Israel, the
heads of their tribes, that he taught the ordinance [of vows]. The verse also
alludes to the interpretation of our Rabbis [who said] that the heads of the tribes
[i.e., the Sages] have a special function and power in vows over and above the
rest of the people, namely, that a single person who is an expert in the laws
can release a person from a vow.
Now the [power of] release from vows [by
a Sage] is not expressly stated in the Torah, but it is a law declared to Moses
on Sinai, and Scripture "hung it on a hair's breath," just as the Rabbis
have said: "[The rules concerning] the release from vows [by a Sage] hover
in the air, and have nothing [in Scripture itself] on which they can be based."
But Scripture did allude to it [by saying]: 'lo yacheil' (he shall not
profane) his word. For it did not say: "he shall not transgress his word."
But commanded that he should not make "profane" his word, meaning that
he should not treat the vow as a hollow [and irreverent] thing; and when he comes
to the court and they find him a cause for absolution and he regrets [having made
the vow], and they release him thereof, he is not profaning it. And the reason
for this [law being indicated in this manner of allusion] is as I have said [above],
that Scripture treated absolution from a vow or oath as if it were one of the
secrets of the Torah which are only to be revealed to those who are fit to [hear]
them, and therefore they are written [in the Torah] in allusion.
"If a man makes a vow to
G-d ." (ish ki yadur neder) [30:3]
A kabbalistic approach:
the word yadur is related to dira "dwelling." The word
"to G-d" means that the vow is directed to the Lord Who is the "Dwelling
Place of the universe," The G-d Who created His world and the seven celestial
regions emanating from there. When anyone fulfills his vows it is as if he thereby
confirms his belief in this dwelling of the Lord in those regions, whereas when
anyone defaults on his vows it is as if he denied such beliefs. The former is
assured that his soul will return to that dwelling, whereas the ones failing to
honor their vows will be removed from those domains permanently. The word neder
alludes to a certain thing and its opposite, i.e., the establishment of a dwelling
or the uprooting of it.
The same is true of people who honor their oaths
or violate them. If they honor them they enter the domain of these seven celestial
dwellings; if not, they forfeit that entitlement. The word shevuah (vow-similar
to sheva/seven) is a clear allusion to these seven regions.
"Avenge the avenge of the Israelites
against the Midianites..." [31:2]
There are two ways of killing
people. One is by inducing them to commit a mortal sin, which will result in the
sinner's physical as well as his spiritual death. The other is a mere physical
slaying of a person's body, when the soul remains unimpaired, capable of returning
to its Divine origin in a state of purity. Since Edom and Egypt had never aimed
at more than the destruction of the physical bodies of the Jewish nation [Ex.
15:9, Num. 20:18], G-d commanded us not to hate those nations. But nations that
have striven to make Israel sin, such as Moab and Amnon, were not to become members
of the Jewish community. In the case of the Midianites, there was even an express
commandment to kill them. The Midianites had aimed at two cardinal taboos.
They knew that G-d hated harlotry and idolatry, and tried to trap the elite of
the people into these two basic transgressions. Because of either, anyone engaged
in fighting Midian could consider himself participating in a "mitzvah
war." The dual expression, "avenge the revenge," explains the justification
of this war, that the Midianites had aimed to destroy our souls as well as our
In the portion of Massei the Torah discusses matters that help perfect
one's body. The body viewed as the sheath of the soul, has also been created
in the image of G-d (Gen.1:27). This is why if someone kills another creature
created in G-d's image, he himself will be killed as an appropriate act
of retribution. By his deed he has separated a soul from its body (i.e.
sheath), hence his own soul will be separated from its sheath.
The act of murder is viewed as if the murderer had also severed the life
of the soul in the celestial regions from its "body" in those
regions. Although such separation would have occurred sooner or later
anyway [by the natural death of the victim, Ed.], the murderer is punished
for having brought this about prematurely. Hence his own soul will not
find its resting place until the murder has been avenged.
"Moses spoke to the people,
saying: 'Separate (moblize) from amongst you people and they will be against
This expedition was based on the attackers' moral
superiority over its adversaries as evidenced by G-d's instruction to "avenge."
Moses had to mobilize the kind of soldiers whose fantasies had not run wild at
the time of the debacle in Shittim. How was he to know which one of the Israelites
had indulged in sinful thoughts at the time? Moses therefore advised each man
of military age to examine himself in this matter. This is the meaning of "separate
yourselves from your own selves," i.e. examine your conscience if you are
morally fit to take part in such a punitive expedition of the morally superior
against the morally inferior. Only those who knew that they could qualify under
this heading would be considered for the contingent of 1.000 per tribe. The
word 'saying' (lemor) is a hint that these people should all "speak
to their inner selves on this subject." Perhaps the very word 'saying' was
even an allusion to the sin of illicit sex as we find in Sanhedrin 56 "the
word 'saying' refers to illicit sex." According to Midrash Tanchuma on
our verse these men were all righteous. Although we have explained elsewhere that
one can only derive such a conclusion from the words anashim (people) when
this word is superfluous in the text, in our instance there is independent support
for the theory that the anashim mentioned here had to be righteous men. Seeing
this was so they had no reason to worry although they would be far outnumbered
by the Midyanites. Moreover, they were not only righteous but they qualified for
the appellation chassidim (pious), because they had been confronted with a powerful
temptation and had conquered it. Zohar Chadash volume 3 page 195 states that this
is the basis for someone being described as pious. This then explains Moses' considerations
as to whom to select and how many to select.
The Kabbalists state that sanctity
is the mystical foundation of spiritual ascent, whereas the klippa, (the
source of negative forces) is the mystical foundation of spiritual descent of
a human being. Once a person commits a sin, part of the klippa attaches
itself to him and becomes part of his nature causing him to become degraded. The
words against Midyan (al Midyan) then mean that these pious soldiers should
be able to be "above Midyan," i.e. be spiritually superior. None of
the forces of impurity which clings to the Midyanites would cling to these soldiers.
- credits Adapted from the 13th century classic by the illustrious scholar,
philosopher and defender of the faith, Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman-known as 'RAMBAN'
or 'Nachmanides', a master kabbalist in his own right and a major link in the
transmission of Jewish mysticism-based on the excellent annotated English translation,
Nachmanides on the Torah, by Rabbi Dr. Charles B. Chavel
- credits Selected with permission from the seven-volume English edition of
The Torah Commentary of Rabbeinu Bachya, as translated and annotated by Eliyahu
Munk. Rabbi Bachya ben Asher [1255-1340] of Saragosa, Spain, was the outstanding
pupil of Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet (the "Rashba"), a main disciple of
Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (the "Ramban"). Several books have been written
about the Kabballah-based portions of R. Bachya's commentary.
- credits Adapted from Torat Moshe - the 16th commentary of Rabbi Moshe Alshech,
the "Preacher of Zefat" on the Torah, as translated and condensed in
the English version of Eliyahu Munk)
Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz was born in Prague around the year 1565. He served
as Rabbi of Cracow and other congregations before he was appointed as
the Rabbi of the community of Frankfurt on Main in the year 1610. In 1916,
Rabbi Horowitz moved to Prague where he became the Chief Rabbi of the
city. He moved to Eretz Yisrael about 1621. He was rabbi in Jerusalem
and in Tiberias, where he died in or about 1630. In addition to his magnus
opus, Shenei Luchot HaBrit, he also compiled an edition of the prayer-book
with a comprehensive commentary. Many of his innovations, including his
formulation of the Kol Nidrei prayer, have become part and parcel of the
Selected with permission from the five-volume English edition of Ohr HaChaim:
the Torah Commentary of Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar, as translated and annotated
by Eliyahu Munk.
The holy Rabbi Chayim ben Moses Attar was born in Sale, Western Morocco,
on the Atlantic in 1696. His immortal commentary on the Five Books Of
Moses, Or Hachayim, was printed in Venice in 1741, while the author was
on his way to the Holy Land. He acquired a reputation as a miracle worker,
hence his title "the holy," although some apply this title only
to his Torah commentary.