Parashat Mattot

My Word

The laws of vows teach that our words have the power to create holiness between us.

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The following article is reprinted with permission from Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.

In the final chapters of the book of Numbers, Moses gives a speech to the Israelites explaining the importance of vows to the Israelite community. From Moses' speech we discover that human words have a genuine effect on the world and on the lives of other people.

We read in the opening verses of our Torah portion:

Numbers 30:2-3

Now Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the Children of Israel, saying: This is the word that The Lord has commanded: (Any) man who vows a vow to the Lord or swears a sworn-oath, to bind himself by a binding-obligation: he is not to desecrate his word, according to all that goes out of his mouth, he is to do.

Your Numbers Navigator

1. What is meant by not "desecrating his word?"

2. According to this excerpt, is there punishment for such behavior?

3. What do these verses infer about the power of words?

A Word

From Moses' speech we may infer that the power of the spoken word is holy. We can stretch our understanding of the Torah portion to mean that not just promises are important to us, but words themselves. We must be careful of the words we speak, because they are powerful.

If words are so powerful, are they magic? If we pray, can we make something happen, something magical, with our words? No, we cannot. But we pray for something holy to happen. We creatures, who have the God-given ability to create, can create a holy moment with our words, facing the ordinary and creating the extraordinary. When we turn to God and to each other with our words of prayer and praise, we create a holy moment in time.

There is an appropriate custom associated for the final words of each book of Torah. At the end of each book, we recognize that the words of Torah are holy and help us to grow in strength. This Shabbat, as we finish the book of Numbers we say, "hazak hazak, v'nithazek," which means, "Be strong, be strong and let us strengthen one another."

As we say these words this Shabbat, we will have said important words to one another. We will have said: "May the words of Torah strengthen us all. May we learn to speak in holy and kind ways to one another. May we learn to make the ordinary extraordinary. May we go from strength to strength."

May it be so.

Rabbi Andrea Steinberger serves as a rabbi at the Hillel Foundation at the University of Wisconsin. Rabbi Steinberger received her ordination from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1997 and her BA from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.