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Parashá Matot

This parashah emphasizes the importance of keeping one's word. The person who makes a promise or an oath, has to be faithful to the acquired commitment.

If we make a commitment to someone to give him a certain help or assistance, if we do not fulfill it, we generate a disappointment and damage to that person. Hence, each person must take care of his word and his commitments.

What is the difference between a promise and an oath? A promise is linked to an object. For example, if a person says "I promise not to drink wine for a month, or to make a donation to an institution". It is considered in both cases promises, because there is an object which is "the wine" or "the money".

On the other hand, when a person says "I commit myself to study Torah daily for one hour or to pray ten Psalms daily", in these cases there is a commitment without an object, which constitutes an oath.

Regarding promises and oaths, our Sages said that a person should refrain from making commitments, and always say "bli neder" (without commitment).

However, there are three cases in which the halacha permits one to make a promise or oath:

1º When the person wants to get away from a bad habit or negative behavior, for example, not to drink wine.

The person wants to improve his behavior, and this promise will help him to correct himself.

2º When a person wants to do a Mitzvah, he can make a commitment.

We learn this from Abraham, when he sent his servant Eliezer to look for a wife for his son Isaac, he told him "...swear to me that you will not let my son go down to Haran, but that you will bring the woman from Haran to the Land of Israel, and you will make every effort to find a wife for my son...".

Why does he make Eliezer swear? Since getting married is a mitzvah, and Abraham wanted Eliezer to exhaust all efforts, that is why he made him swear.

3º When a person is in danger.

We learn this from Yaaqov, when he was fleeing from his brother Esav, because he wanted to kill him, and had to travel to Haran, he tells God "... if you will give me bread to eat and clothes to wear, of all that you give me, I will set aside the tithe...", in other words,... if I have the possibility I will donate 10% of all that I receive.

With the exception of these three cases, a person must avoid making a promise or an oath, and this is how this parashah begins to make us aware of the power of the word.

Parashah Masheh

This parashah tells us about all the encampments that the people of Israel made during the forty years in the desert.

The people traveled when the cloud of the Tabernacle arose, and when the cloud descended upon the Tabernacle, they encamped.

The cloud was the sign that indicated the beginning of the journeys, and the time of the encampments of the people of Israel. When the people traveled they did not know how long they would be traveling, and when they encamped they did not know how long they would be encamped in that place.

The Torah in this parashah mentions the forty-two encampments that the people made.

Our sages said, that the number is not accidental, because this number is linked to G-d's name of forty-two letters. There is a prayer that we say daily in Shacharit, and in the Shema al Hamitah (before going to bed) which is called Anah Bechoach which is based on G-d's name of forty-two letters. This is the name that the Creator used to unify the spiritual world and the material world, which is a great miracle: how two antagonistic essences can coexist together.

Why does the Torah show so much interest in describing these forty-two displacements? So that the person becomes aware, that during these forty years the people were guided by the Cloud of Glory, and that it was the Creator who led them, He made them encamp and He made them travel, He accompanied them continuously, as King David says, Psalm 121-5;

"G-d is your shadow", it means where you go, there I am with you.

From here we learn that we have to live with the feeling that G-d guides our steps, and that the events that come to us are not casual.


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