Torah Portion: B’Midbar (Numbers) 30:2-36:13
HafTorah: Jeremiah 1:1-2:28
Tonight we finish the book of B’Midbar or Numbers by reading a double portion of the book. These two sections cover a wide range of topics from the giving of a vow, the division of the Land, the victory over the Midianites where we read of the death of Bi’lam, all the journeys of Israel and the death of Aaron.
From all these I want to look at the portion of giving of vows and the words we speak from several different angles. The powers of words! So, let us begin with the situation of a wife giving a vow and the husband’s part in this process. In Numbers 30:6-15 we read of the possibilities of how her vow is binding and how it might be voided. From our reading we see if the husband takes immediate action he can void her vow. However, if he is silent, waiting for a day or longer what happens? He loses the ability to void her vow. Why would it matter if he waits for a bit? Why can he not exercise that power later?
It would seem that Torah is saying silence is consent. By not saying something quickly he give the appearance of being a partner in her vow. Now the question is, so what? Why does this matter to us today? What is G-d saying through these verses?
Everyday we are faced with people and issues that call for a response from the people of G-d. In the movie, “Gentleman’s Agreement,” the lead character is a reporter who pretends to be Jewish for awhile to see what reaction he gets from people he meets in his job, most of whom are or think they are, justified in their prejudice. What is most distressing are the “good” people who remain silent when they hear the awful words spoken, jokes told or see the disgusting actions taken by bigots. By remaining silent it is as if they agree with what was said or the actions that took place. Silence is assent.
My point is, as people who know, as people of G-d, we should become active in speaking against the wrongs that go on around us everyday. To sit and talk about how awful something was and only do that with people who agree with us isn’t enough. I would urge each of us to find our voice and become vocal about those things that are going on in our society that are not in agreement with our faith. We are called to be G-d’s partners in redeeming this world. We are called to stand up for those who are hungry, sick, without a voice or power in our world. By being silent it is as if we are partners to their suffering. There is no neutrality. Silence is assent.
Another lesson we can draw from this section on vows is that words have power. G-d sees our words as an expression of our heart. B’Midbar 30:2-3 tells us what comes out of our mouths we must do. The power of words! The effect of words is a common topic in scripture. What comes out of our mouth is important and powerful.
It is interesting that this point is made here in the end of B’Midbar. What is different between the first four books of Torah and the last book of D’Varim (Deuteronomy)? B’Midbar is the last of four books that have G-d speaking to the people and Moshe. D’Varim is Moshe preaching or giving his farewell address to the people before they enter the land. So here at the end of their travels G-d speaks to them about words, about vows.
In the Temple service the vessels used had to be holy or clean. If they were not clean they were not used. It was the same for the priests, if they were unclean they could not come into the presence of G-d. We as priests today are the same. The people of Israel were about to leave the wilderness where G-d had constantly, visibly, traveled with them and enter the Land where life would be more difficult. They would have to spend much time working, defending their land, raising their children – the “real world” so to speak. G-d is telling them to maintain their holiness. They must be aware of what comes out of their mouths. By paying attention to their words they could transform the ordinary world into a place of holiness. So can we. If we allow ourselves to fall into speech that hurts, kills and destroys we lose our effectiveness as G-d’s people. We become unclean. Scripture is filled with verses that tell us the power in our words for both good and evil. Examples are: James 3:6, I Peter 3:10, Matthew 15:18, Romans 3:13-14, Proverbs 18:21 and Proverbs 10:19.
My prayer for all of us is that our words will build up, they will bless and not curse, they will bring honor to G-d and no harm to His Name.