Parshas Matos

July 23rd, 2011
21 Tammuz, 5771

This week’s edition of Sparks of Torah is dedicated by Mark Brooks and Terry Samuels in memory of Mark Levy’s mother Yocheved Levy, ob”m, who passed away two weeks ago. May her neshama have an aliyah in Heaven.

The Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth

By Rabbi Raphael Leban

Sarah and Rebecca were playing together quite nicely on the family room floor. So nicely, in fact, that Sarah, who was currently in the challenging process of “potty training,” couldn’t quite tear herself from playing when ‘the time’ came. When her mother returned, she found Sarah’s pants wet.

“Did you wet your pants, dear?” her mother asked her.

Sarah looked around, paused, and responded a little too confidently.

“I didn’t do it. Rebecca did it.”

What do you expect from a two-year-old? The truth?

If I asked you what’s the most common verse in the Five Books of Moses, you shouldn’t have to think too long. “And God spoke to Moshe, to say.” Hardly a parsha goes by without a few of them.

And it’s not surprising. God taught Moshe the Torah, mitzvah by mitzvah, so that he should teach it to the Jewish People. Almost every mitzvah is introduced that way. Here’s what God said to Moshe to say to us.

This week’s parsha stands out in stark contrast. As Parshas Matos begins, the first mitzvah the parsha teaches us starts out as follows:

And Moshe spoke to the heads of the tribes of Israel, saying, ‘This is the thing which God has commanded.’

Why the change? Why should this mitzvah be introduced initially by Moshe as God’s command, and not recorded first as a communication from God to Moshe?

The beginning of this week’s parsha teaches us the laws of making vows, the obligation to fulfill what one has committed oneself explicitly to do. About someone who has undertaken to do something, it says “lo yacheil devaro,” literally ‘he should not profane his words.’ Not keeping your word is called ‘profaning’ your word – profane being the ultimate opposite of holiness.

Why should this mitzvah be introduced by Moshe and not by God?

Answered Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the value of one’s word is so great and the imperative not to violate it so important, that it should be innately understood. A human being should know not to break their word. It’s almost as if Moshe himself knew to inculcate the principle in the Jewish People even before God commanded him to do so.

Think about it. Humans are the only creatures in the universe given the gift of speech. (We’re not talking about bird chirps and dolphin squeaks. Anyone who doesn’t recognize the difference between animal communication and human language has never read Tehillim (Psalms).)

With a word, you can bring a smile to a tearful face. With a promise, you can allay the worst of fears. And with a lie, you can destroy the deepest bond of trust.

The potential for sanctity inherent in speech and the obligation not to desecrate our speech should be readily apparent to all of us. Even before the Torah commands us to uphold its sanctity.

Almost even to a child of two.


How Different is Different?

By Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum

In the battle against Midianites, the Jewish nation took many spoils of war. Amongst the booty were utensils that were usable for food preparation. The Torah explains what to do when one acquires cooking utensils that were used by non-Jews. The way they were used by their previous owners determines the kashering process necessary to allow us to use them. These processes remove the non-kosher food absorbed into the vessels thereby rendering them acceptable for our use.

Sometimes when one purchases such a utensil from non-Jewish ownership, the utensil has never been used. The process of purging it from absorbed foods is therefore not necessary. However, there is an additional requirement of tevilah – immersing the utensil in a mikvah, a specially prepared pool of rain water – which is also obligatory before using the utensil. The explanation of this mitzvah is that there is a certain state of impurity to the utensil by virtue of its prior owner which is fixed by immersion in the mikvah. Only then can that utensil be used in a kosher kitchen.

What is the value and power of a mikvah? Does it alter the molecular structure of the fork or this is just a symbolic gesture that impresses upon us the need to distance ourselves from the non-Jewish world that surrounds us?

We must first examine the nature of the mikvah and what it is all about. What can ordinary rain water accomplish? Besides conferring purity to a new vessel, a mikvah is used in all cases of impurity contracted by a person or a utensil. When the person or the utensil is submerged in the mikvah, the impurity is eliminated. How does this happen?

The procedure by which a mikvah is constructed is to collect rain water with materials that are incapable of becoming impure. In essence, this creates an environment that is distinct and separate from this world’s infectious corruption. When an item that is defiled is submerged into that realm of purity, it is as if that affected item is recreated and transformed into a new object distinct from its predecessor. Any ‘imperfection’ that was present in the former item is eliminated in the newly created item. In this same manner, the contamination present even in an unused object owned by a non-Jew is removed and the item made ready for Jewish use.

This concept is additionally relevant to us in that we are infused with impure thoughts and inappropriate actions which adversely affect us and the world around us. We must immerse ourselves in the rich legacy that awaits us when we delve into the insights and wisdom of the Torah. Its wellsprings are refreshing and inspiring and we need only expose our minds to its eternal truths and deeper realities.


Byte for Shabbos

The Torah refers to the daily sacrifice that was brought at Mt. Sinai. It was also offered every day, 365 days a year, for hundreds of years after that, wherever the Tabernacle traveled and later in Jerusalem. Why does the Torah specifically refer to it in association with Mt. Sinai? All prophecies that we received during the era of the prophets emanated from Mt. Sinai. All the Torah that was ever studied and will ever be studied also originates from Mt. Sinai. Everything that we do stems from our encounter with G-d at Mt. Sinai.



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