The Weekly Parsha: A New Dimension

by Rabbi Heshy Grossman

Back to this week's Parsha | Previous Issues

Parshas Matos - Masei


"VaYidaber Moshe El Roshei HaMatos L'Bnai Yisrael Laimor, Zeh HaDavar Asher Tzivah Hashem. Ish Ki Yidor Neder L'Hashem.....Lo Yachel D'varo K'Chol HaYotze MiPiv Ya'aseh"

"And Moshe spoke to the heads of the tribes, to the B'nai Yisrael saying, this is the word that Hashem commands. A man who makes a vow to Hashem....he should not profane his word, all that comes from his mouth should be fulfilled." (Bamidbar 30, 2-3)

Let us consider two questions raised by the preface to this Parsha. Unlike most Mitzvos, this subject is not introduced with a prior command of "And Hashem said to Moshe saying...", but rather, Moshe Rabbeinu on his own teaches this Mitzva to Klal Yisrael. Secondly, why does this section begin with "Zeh HaDavar Asher Tzivah Hashem", rather than the more common "Koh Amar Hashem"?

In this shiur we will address these two issues, explaining the significance of man's vows and the power of his speech.


Let us begin our shiur by looking at the Torah's description of man's creation.

"VaYitzer Hashem Elokim Es HaAdam Afar Min HaAdama VaYipach B'Apav Nishmas Chaim, VaYehi HaAdam L'Nefesh Chaya" (B'reishis 2,7)

The Targum translates "VaYehi HaAdam L'Nefesh Chaya as "V'Havas B'Adam L'Ruach Memalella" - "And it became within man a speaking spirit". Rashi, commenting on this verse, cites the power of speech as the unique designation of a human being. Apparently, it is the ability to speak that defines the essence of man.

In ordering the species that inhabit the earth, the Kuzari places man on top of the list. Domem, Tzomeach, Chai, M'Daber. Similarly, in the first Mishna of Baba Kamma, man is defined as "Mav'eh", which means "expression" or "request". The idea is the same as above. It is with speech that man fulfills his role in creation, so much so, that no appelation more aptly describes him than 'M'Daber'.

It is through words that man expresses his inner self. Speech actualizes his potential, giving life to dormant thoughts. Without the words that are the physical expression of his soul, he functions no differently than a wooden log.

While human life is best described as one of speech, death is referred to as silence.

"Lo HaMeisim Yehallelu Kah, VeLo Kol Yordei Dumah" - "The deceased do not praise G-d, nor do all those who descend to the grave". (Tehillim 115,17) In the grave man is entombed in "Dumah" - "Silence". (This idea should clarify the necessity of expressing prayer through words, rather than relying on G-d to read one's thoughts, living man expresses his thoughts through speech)

Man's body is just another physical entity. He alone has the ability to revive his flesh, with the words that give meaning and direction to his life.

With this in mind, we can now understand a puzzling statement of Chazal. "B'Avon Nedarim Banim Meisim" - "For the sin of [parents' unfulfilled] vows children die" (Shabbos 32b)

The Maharal explains that man's words are his produce and offspring. For this reason, the Torah refers to a prophet as 'Navi', from the root 'Niv', produce. (as in 'Tnuvah', see Isaiah 27,6 and 57,19)

The prophet is one whose words are eternal. But the word of one who violates his vow has no lasting value. Just as his promises are empty, so too, whatever he produces withers and dies.

Elsewhere, the Maharal takes this concept one step further.

"All falsehood is not worthy of existence, falsehood causes non-existence. Specifically, it causes his children to die.....his children are true produce....and his produce must be true." (Chiddushei Aggados, Sanhedrin, pg. 206)

In this passage the Maharal ties the word of man to existence itself.

The reality of existence is defined and created by the word of G-d. "Baruch She'Amar V'Hayah HaOlam". Or, as the Mishna in Avos states, "B'Asarah Ma'amaros Nivra HaOlam". This world is the expression of G-d's will.

Speech, then, does more than distinguish man from animals. It is a function of Tzelem Elokim, uniting man with G-d in producing a world of lasting value. Words are the means by which man expresses the Heavenly concepts at the heart of creation, giving spiritual purpose to the physical world.


"Moshe prophesized with 'Koh Amar Hashem K'Chatzos HaLaila' and the Neviim prophesized with 'Koh Amar Hashem'. In addition, more so than the Neviim, Moshe prophesized with the term 'Zeh HaDavar' " (Rashi, Bamidbar 30, 2)

Let us analyze the difference between these two types of prophecy.

'Koh' - 'as if'. It does not express the core message, but describes a closely related concept, alluding to the intended idea in allegorical form. No man is able to grasp the essence of G-d, or the totality of His word. Though prophecy is as near as one can be to G-dly wisdom, he still must maintain the distance of "Koh'. Not exactly 'it', but close.

Moshe Rabbeinu is a prophet of a different sort. His words are Divrei Torah. He sees the Heavenly message through a crystal-clear screen, faithfully passing on G-d's directives to Klal Yisrael, losing nothing in transmission.

He has 'The Word' . "Zeh HaDavar". This is It.

There is a second distinction between Moshe and the Prophets. The words of the Neviim are 'Amar', while those of Moshe are 'Davar'. In order to understand this distinction, we must contrast 'Ma'amar' with 'Dibbur'.

Chazal refer to Dibbur as a 'Lashon Kasheh', while 'Amar' is 'Lashon Rackoh'.

Rav Hutner (Pachad Yitzchak, Pesach, 47) defines statements of 'Amar' as being 'Kovea Uvda', establishing the facts, as in the 'Asarah Ma'amaros' by which G-d created the world, revealing the work of His hand. Dibbur, on the other hand, directs and leads, as in the verse "Yadber Amim Tachteinu" - "May the nations be under our direction". The 'Aseres HaDibros' do more than reveal G-d's will. They form the basis for all of Torah and cannot be ignored.

Let us explain.

"VaYomer" is always addressed to someone. "VaYomer El.." "VaYidaber", however, does not require a recipient. Where the Torah says, for example, "Vayidaber Lo" or "VaYidaber Li", Rashi translates as "VaYidaber Alai" or "VaYidaber Alaiv". The speech refers to he or I, it does not necessarily speak to us directly.

Dibbur then, stands on its own. This is similar to the Mishkan, where the word of G-d was "MeDaber", as if speaking by itself. Dibbur does not require man's understanding or acquiescence. For this reason, the Aseres HaDibros were said as one, beyond the comprehension of man. He has no choice but to accept. Dibbur obligates and directs. It is a 'Lashon Kasheh'.

In contrast, the Asarah Ma'amaros were uttered one at a time, waiting for the righteous man to put them together, revealing the unity of creation. Ma'amar then, leaves open the possibility of misunderstanding. It tells us the truth, but it doesn't force our hand. It is 'Lashon Rackoh'.

The Maharal explains the basis of this idea.

'Ma'amar' refers to the content of speech. 'Dibbur' is speech itself.

We have explained that speech is the expression of life. True 'Dibbur' is synonymous with existence itself, actualizing and reflecting the Heavenly reality that defines our world.

G-d has created a world of 'Ma'amaros', leaving room for man to accomplish and achieve. Being that 'Ma'amar' merely states the facts, they can be misunderstood. It all depends on man's perception, the way he 'reads' those 'words'. The wicked man is one who looks passively at the world, adding no words to the physical facts before him. Hence, his lifeless world has no meaning, and he sees creation as rudderless and disjointed.

The righteous man 'speaks'. He looks at the world and actualizes its potential, bringing to life the 'Dibburim' that leave no room for argument. He understands the world as one unified whole, an expression of G-dly unity and truth, an adjunct of Hashem Himself. As G-d cannot be denied, so too, the man who understands the meaning of His words. Moshe Rabbeinu is the true leader of Israel, directing G-d's nation to the Promised Land, "Zeh HaDavar Asher Tzivah Hashem".


"Man is referred to as 'Chai Midaber', not 'Chai Omer'." (Maharal, Gur Aryeh, Shmos, 20,1)

Man's words are to be an expression of hidden truths, not idle chatter or practical instruction. His word has the strength of the Torah, bestowing Divine charachter to material objects. For this reason, Lashon HaKodesh refers to all matters as 'Devarim'. Every item in creation reflects the word of Heaven.

All this is actualized by the man who makes a vow. When making a Neder, man imitates G-d, creating a new Torah prohibition, which he places on the object of his vow. For this reason, vows are valid even when prohibiting one's self from the performance of a Mitzva. His words carry strength that equals the command of Hashem. For example, one may vow never to build a Sukkah, and be bound by his word. Were man to be worthy, he would be encouraged to make frequent vows, exercising the G-dly ability to sanctify his word.

As we complete Sefer Bamidbar, the Jewish People are standing at the getaway to Eretz Yisrael. Moshe Rabbeinu has led them to the entry point of a new world, one whose potential will be realized through the efforts of man. It is at this point that he introduces the Mitzva that epitomizes man's role in creation. The Mitzva of Nedarim must be initiated by man, not G-d. Much as all of Torah SheBa'al Peh is uncovered by the word of man, so too, every vow allows man to express the Heavenly power that lies within him.

Once this is revealed, a new dawn begins. The very same Moshe who stuttered before Phaaroh suddenly becomes the master of words, with a book of his own, "Eleh HaDevarim Asher Diber Moshe El Kol Yisrael".

Have a good Shabbos!

Any questions or comments? Address them to:

Back to this week's Parsha | Previous Issues

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel