To Dedicate Please Contact: Hadrash Ve-Haiyun
Moshe spoke to the tribal leaders of the children of Israel saying, This is the word that Hashem has commanded. If a man makes a vow to Hashem or makes an oath to initiate a prohibition upon himself, he may not profane his word. He shall do all that he said. (Bamidbar 30:2,3).
In the beginning of this week’s parsha, we learn about the laws of vows and oaths. The parsha begins with the expression “This is the matter.” Rashi quotes a Midrash that notes how Moshe in Egypt began his prophecy with the words “So says Hashem, at about midnight I will go out over the land of Egypt.” The Midrash then notes that other prophets also began their prophecies with these same words: “So says Hashem.” Here however, Moshe outdid himself and surpassed all others by beginning this prophecy with the words “This is the matter.”
The simple interpretation is that the words “This is the matter” connotes a greater degree of clarity than the words “So says Hashem.” It is difficult to see however why the Midrash interprets this statement as prophecy at all. Prophecy is simply understood as a revelation of what will occur at a future time. All we learn here are the laws of vows and oaths. Why does the Midrash consider the laws of vows and oaths a prophecy more so than any other law that Moshe taught the Jewish people?
The first time we are introduced to the concept of vows is in parshas Vayeitzai. When Yaakov traveled to Charan to seek a wife, he stopped to pray to Hashem for protection. He vowed that if Hashem would protect him and permit him to return in peace he would build a sanctuary for Hashem and tithe all that he owns. The posuk records Yaakov vow with the words “And Yaakov vowed saying.” Chazal note that the word “saying” appears to be superfluous and therefore explain it as meaning that Yaakov spoke to all future generation saying that they too should take vows in times of trouble. Chazal teach us that it is generally forbidden to take vows because of the severe punishment that awaits one who fails to fulfill a vow. As we learn from Yaakov, however, one may do so in times of trouble.
We may suggest that when Moshe taught the laws of vows to the Jewish people, he was predicting that times of trouble would come when it would be necessary to take vows as a source of merit in dealing with these difficult events. Thus, the teaching of these laws was indeed an indirect prophecy that difficult times lay ahead.
We may now have a new understanding of the difference between Moshe and the other prophets. The other prophets began their prophecy with the words “So says Hashem.” Other prophets warned the Jewish people about future events. Their focus was rebuke. They warned of hard and difficult times that would come if they would not change their evil ways. Their prophecies, however, did not include instructions on how to deal with the situation if and when it would come. Moshe surpassed them in that he taught the Jewish people how to deal with the hard times by earning merit through the taking of vows.
© Efraim Levine 5760/2000 - 5765/2005