Parshat Matot features several interesting events, however it starts off relating over the final laws given in the book Bamidbar, relating the laws on vows and oaths (Bamidbar 30:2-17).
The Torah stresses to us how one should never rashly taken an oath or a vow. One who makes vows and promises regarding trivial matters transgress greatly and causes a desecration of Hashem's name. An Oath forbids an act from being carried out (Nedarim 2a).
An oath or vow is binding when taken by a boy from the age of thirteen years and a girl from the age of twelve.
There are 3 situations when it is commendable for a G-d fearing Jew to make an oath; if one has acquired sinful habits and wishes to stop and repent, if the oath is represented by a mitzvah and there is also a tradition from our forefather, Yaakov, that one should take a vow at a time of distress.
We learned in Parshat Vayaitze, when Yaakov was fleeing from Eisav, Yaakov vowed to give a tenth of all his earnings if he would return home safely and Hashem would provide his necessities (Bereishit 28:22).
If one takes an oath or a vow, and realizes that it is too difficult for him to fulfill, he can either go to a scholar who is an expert in the law (Ketubot 74b), or to three laymen as they can absolve him on the basis that at the time of taking the vow he was not fully aware of all its implications. It is very meritorious to seek absolution from vows (Nedarim 22a).
The Parshah then discusses the war against Midyan. Hashem commanded Moshe to instruct that one thousand members of each tribe should go to the army to fight, 1000 men were to pray for safety and victory to Hashem and a final 1000 from each tribe was to guard the belongings of the army and supply the food (Bamidbar 31:4). The people that went out to war had to be righteous and G-d fearing.
Pinchus was one of the men who went to war against Midyan, he was the Kohen anointed for battle (Yoma 73a/ Bamidbar 31:6). He killed Bilam and helped guide the Jews to an emphatic victory over Midyan. From here we learn that if one starts performing a mitzvah, he should not try and stop in the middle, he should try and finish it. He started the attack against Midyan when he killed Zimri and Cozby.
Miraculously there were no Jewish casualties and millions of the wicked Midyanites lives were lost as the Jews killed most. However, to Moshe’s anger, some of the women of Midyan were kept alive (Bamidbar 31:14-16). Many of these ladies seduced the men to sin and worship the idols as we learned at the end of Parshat Balak (Bamidbar 25:1-2).
The Parshah then goes on to explain the laws of Koshering impure vessels which was instructed by Aharon's son, the new Kohen Gadol, Elazar (Bamidbar 31:21-24). For example if the vessels had been used for cooking non kosher food, the vessel must be filled with boiling hot water in order to make it Kosher (Avodah Zarah 75b Rashi)! Furthermore, the method of Koshering depends upon its previous use, for example, a spit on which non kosher food was roasted directly over fire, must be koshered by it being made glowing hot in fire.
Much of the booty that was won in the war was given to the Temple treasury, however half of what was won, was given over to the courageous men who battled in the army. Also a percentage of what the nation gained was given to the Kohanim and Leviem (Bamidbar 31:25-54).
The Parshah has a lengthy conclusion, relating how the tribe of Reuven and Gad requested to live on the East side of the Jordan. This was due to the fact that they saw this land was suitable for the mass animals they owned as there was a lot of spacious pasture ground (Bamidbar 32:1-5).
Moshe responded to their request with anger (Bamidbar 32:6-15), saying that this will make every one unconfident about going to the land of Israel as it may have appeared that they did not want to live directly in the land. However the tribes of Reuven and Gad assured Moshe that they will enter Israel and head the army and even wait for everyone to settle in their respective territories before going back to their family and animals in the East Jordan. Moshe was satisfied with their assurance. It states towards the end of Parshat Matot “you shall be clear before the Lord and before Israel” — meaning that people should act so as to avoid even the appearance of transgression (Bamidbar 32:22/ Yoma 38a).
However as they lived on the East Jordan, these tribes were exiled first as they all lived outside of the land of Israel due to Reuvens request. Reuven and Gad were accompanied in the land with half the tribe of Menashe.
The usual Haftorah for Parshat Matot is from Chapters 1 and 2 from the book of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:1- 2:3).
Have a great week, watch this space for Dvar Torah on Parshat Masai, by Michael Zaroovabeli.