(Torah Portion Matos/Massai) Powerful Words!
The Torah in this week’s portion introduces us to the laws of vows. The Torah empowers us to utilize our gift of speech to place a demand on ourselves through a vow that is as demanding as a G-d-given law stated in the Torah!
The Talmud explains that a vow needs to be connected to something that had been changed through one’s declaration. For instance, if one wishes to prohibit a certain food item upon himself he would state, “This item of food is prohibited to me like a sacrifice to the Temple.” For a sacrifice becomes sanctified through a verbal declaration making the animal holy and under the regulations of the Temple’s guidelines.
Although a sacrifice is prohibited to all for personal use, one can make a vow prohibiting an item only on himself. How does this work? How can something be holy to one person but perfectly permitted to others?
Shem MiShmuel explains this in a very interesting way: The Torah in its totality, all 613 laws, applies to each and every person in Klal Yisroel – the Jewish nation. We are one unit and all responsible for each other.
Additionally, each individual Jewish person is a world unto himself. The Talmud teaches us that one who eliminates a Jewish person is as if he destroyed an entire world, and one who saves an individual Jew is as if he saved an entire world.
This individual world of each person has its unique DNA and personality that differ from others, so that regarding vows, a person can place a demand or prohibition in his personal world, to the exclusion of others.
Rabainu Yona says that if our speech is empowered to affect something mundane turning it into something sanctified, that means that our mouthpiece is like a sanctified vessel of the Temple which sanctifies that which is placed in it so that when one, for example, presented a flour offering in the Temple the ingredients become sanctified when placed in a sanctified vessel. This presents us a glimpse of the power and sanctity endowed in our gift of speech.
Because we are a sanctified people and our speech has been endowed with great capabilities and potential, the Torah places a requirement upon us to refrain from speaking ill of others.
There is a great question: If one is not careful of what they say negatively about others, can he recite a vow? After all a Temple vessel that had lost its sanctity cannot effectuate sanctity to its contents.
From the law that no one is excluded from making a vow, we see that no matter where a Jew is holding, his speech always retains a spark of sanctity!
Shem MiShmuel explains that this sanctity may be due to our connectivity to the entire unit of the Jewish people. Through our bond as a nation we become like one, and since included in this bond are those who keep and retain their sanctity, we all become beneficiaries of their devoutness and are considered holy.
One of the methods of releasing oneself from a vow is to go to a wise scholar – a Chochom – and if he can discern that there was something lacking in the intent of the one who made the vow, he can deem the vow null and void.
Possibly, the vow is discharged through the wise and holy person because the only capacity to originally make the vow was through the sanctity extended to this individual through the Chochom.
Another way one can be released from a vow is to utter a statement before a tribunal of three men that there was something lacking in his intent when he made the vow; similar to Kol Nidrai – when our vows are absolved by the Chazon flanked by two men, each holding a Sefer Torah.
This tribunal need not be Chochomim – wise and devout – perhaps symbolizing that when Jews get together as one they become invested with the power to help and assist another and release him from his vow!
Our productive and kind words have the energy to elevate our personal world and the capacity to enhance and improve the entire world. They also have the ability to reach G-d, Who is ever so attentive to respond to our call!
Wishing you a most enjoyable and uplifting Shabbat!
Rabbi Dovid Saks