Parashat Matot- Word Power
**This week's Parasha has been dedicated L’iluy nishmat Natan ben Shoshana Levy by his children.**
The parashot which are read between Shiva Asar BeTamuz and Tisha BeAv relate, on some level to the Ben Hamesarim. For example, last week, we explained that Pinhas reminds of Eliyahu, who will usher in the redemption.
This week’s parasha, Parashat Matot, discusses sins relating to speech. The Torah teaches that when one makes a vow, “he shall not break his pledge; all that crosses his lips he must fulfill “(Bamidbar 30:3). People often believe that while actions are serious, words don’t harm anyone. The Torah is teaching us that a person who takes a vow is bound by another mitzvah of the Torah! Similarly, if a person consecrates an animal or object, he is obligated to donate it to the Bet HaMikdash.
The Talmud (Yoma 9b) teaches that the Second Temple was destroyed because of sinat hinam (unnecessary hatred). The gemara explains, based on a verse from Sefer Yehezkel (21:17), that in the time of the Second Temple, people would eat and drink with each other, but “they would stab each other with verbal barbs.” In other words, the sinat hinam was expressed in the way in which people spoke to each other. Before concluding our prayers each day, in the “Elokay nesor,” we prayer that God should protect us from this behavior.
Although the Talmud attributes the destruction of the Second Temple to this sin, the rabbis teach us that every generation during which the Temple is not rebuilt, it is as if it was destroyed in their days. Therefore, it is certainly no coincidence that we read of the sins of speech, the primary cause of the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash, during these Three Weeks.
The Midrash comments, in the beginning this parasha (Bamidbar 35:3), “And when a man takes a vow’ – to this the verse (Kohelet 9:12) , “a person does not know his end” refers.” What is the relationship between knowing one’s end and taking a vow? The Rabbis apparently see a connection between death, or mortality, and speech. Indeed, the very first sin recorded in the Torah (Bereshit 3), when Hava spoke to the serpant, resulted in introducing death to the world. Mortality is the result of the sins of speech.
Similarly, David Hamelech, in Tehillim (119:17-18) says, “Deal kindly with Your servant, that I may live to keep Your word. Open my eyes, that I may perceive the wonders of Your teaching.” David HaMelech was thankful for his long life, and concludes that the secret to a long life is to “keep your word.” And how did he know this? Some explain for the word “gal”, whose numerical equivalence in thirty three. What is the significance of thirty three? The Rabbis explain that Yaakov Avinu died at age 147, thirty three years younger than his father, Yitzhak, due to the ingratitude towards God he expressed in thirty three words (Bereshit 47:8-9). David HaMelech realized the power of speech which shortened Yaakov’s life by thirty three years.
These parashot are read during this time of year, in order to teach us the severity of sins of speech. The Torah says that “should not profane his word,” because, “all that comes from his mouth makes something.” Once a word is uttered, it cannot be taken back. Of course, as the Rabbis teach us, “lefum zaara agara” – in accordance with one’s mouth, is one’s anguish, and also one’s reward. One can also do great things with one’s mouth. One of the most important things one can do with his mouth is limud Torah, and more specifically, to study Torah shebe’al Peh.