Torah Portion: Matot (Tribes) B’midbar (Numbers) 30:2-32:42

HafTorah: Jeremiah 1:1-2:3

Tonight we read the Torah section Matot. In it we read about the vows that a person takes and how or if they can be annulled. We talked about this once and the importance of guarding our lips from words spoken in anger, or haste such as, “I will never…” Those fit the pattern of a vow and are very serious and should not be spoken lightly.

We also cover the conquest of the Midianites at G-d’s command. One point important in this section is the detail to which the Torah goes in counting everything taken and how it is divided between the people. Why does the Torah take such pains when it could have been covered much more quickly? What is the lesson to be learned from Numbers 31:26-54? Seems to me that the point being made is the importance of honesty. Everything had to be above reproach, every shekel counted. We are to live our lives according to G-d’s word. There is no such thing as a small theft because everything belongs to the Father and He sees everything whether it is five cents too much from the cashier or a million dollars from the IRS. We are called to a higher way to live.

This brings me to another important point that we often lose sight of. In Numbers 32:22 we read of the final agreement between Moses and the Tribes of Reuben and Gad. If you remember they had requested to take their inheritance on the east side of the Jordan rather than go over the river with the other tribes to subdue Canaan. Moses of course, had a big problem with this. So they agreed to go over with everyone and not return to the east side of the Jordan until Israel was settled. Here in our verse Moses tells them that if they carry out their agreement they will be blameless before G-d and Israel. Now, how does this teach us anything in our lives? Moses’ words are, “blameless before G-d and Israel.” Would it not be enough to be blameless before G-d? Why is before Israel added on? Maybe Moses is saying it is not enough to be blameless before G-d we must also be blameless before man. It should matter to us how we appear before man. We must do the right thing before our neighbors. Say you were one of the people who made the incense for the Mishkan (tabernacle). How would it appear to your neighbors if your wife and daughters also went out wearing perfume that was very much like what was used in the Mishkan? Would people talk? Yes, I believe they would. They might suspect that you were using or misusing the incense made for the Mishkan for your own families use. So to be above reproach, your wife and daughters would need to not wear perfume. Extreme? Maybe, but the point is, it is very important that we be blameless before men as well as G-d.

For example, say you have explained to your friends and family you no longer celebrate certain holidays, like Halloween but then you are invited over for a party at your neighbors. Since this party is a Halloween party for the kids you go. What does this say to your friends and family that see you there? Or for Jean and I, say Jean goes out on the Sabbath and mows the yard since it is the only convenient time she can get it done this week, after we have told everyone we do not work on the Sabbath? Sometimes when we want to do something that does not quite fit our witness we try to pick a time when no one we know will see us doing this thing. Whom do we fear? Do we fear G-d or man? We must live our life above reproach from either.

Even if a person never picked up a bible they should know what G-d requires by how they see us living. We are each a role model for good or not. So suspicions are a pervasive feature of our lives. However we must, to the best of our ability, live our lives above reproach and at the same time when we look at others to judge them generously, giving them the benefit of the doubt.

Being innocent before G-d is one thing. Being innocent before man can be much more difficult. However, such is our challenge, not because we seek their approval but because we are called to be role models. We may not always succeed but we are called. We must do everything we can as we go about our day to be innocent before G-d and man.