Category Archives: Parshat מטות

Parshat מטות

Parshat מטות Bamidbar 31:7 – Lay Seige According to How God Instructed Moshe

Bamidbar 31:7 – They mounted an attack against Midian, as the Lord had commanded Moses, and they killed every male.

Sifri – they surrounded [Midian] on all four sides [this is the general opinion]; Rabbi Natan’s opinion is that the Israelites [surrounded Midian on three sides and] left a fourth side open so that [anyone who wanted to] could flee

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #9:

That is to say that [according to the opinion of Rabbi Natan] the Israelites left a place so that anyone who wanted to flee, could [in fact] flee. The Rambam is the six chapter of the laws of kings, in halacha seven, writes as follows: “when you siege a city to capture it, don’t surround it [completely] on all four sides, rather surround it on three sides. Leave a place for escape, so that anyone who wants to flee to save his life can do so. This is according to the oral tradition that thus it was commanded as it says in the verse ‘they mounted an attack against Midian, as the Lord had commanded Moses…”

The Kesef Mishna in his commentary on the Rambam cites the above mentioned Sifri as the the source for the Rambam’s ruling. To me, however, this is astounding.

It is not clear why the Rambam decided according to the opinion of Rabbi Natan against the general opinion. Also Rambam phraseology is not clear when he states “this is according to the oral tradition that thus it was commanded.” Where is this command [of only surrounding on three sides] alluded to? Further, what is the source of Rabbi Natan’s opinion?

It is possible to say that the Rambam was relying on what it says in the Jerusalem Talmud Mesechta Shviis, Chapter 6, Halacha 1. There is says that Joshua sent 3 public pronouncements prior to entering the Land of Israel. One of the pronouncements was that anyone who wanted to flee, was free to do so. So, apparently, it is unclear where Joshua was instructed to do this. One needs to conclude that Joshua learned to do this from [watching] the way Moshe conducted his wars. So, behold this is a proof to the opinion of Rabbi Natan. It is on this beraita [in the Jerusalem Talmud] that Rabbi Natan relied on for his opinion. Also, as it is known that an unattributed beraita is according to Rabbi Natan, it is therefore logical that the Rambam would decide according to Rabbi Natan.

This also explains the Rambam’s phraseology of “according to the oral tradition we learn”. The intent is that according to the way that Joshua conducted himself, we see that thus it was commanded to Moshe.

The reason for leaving the fourth side open is because if one does not do this, the fighters would fight without hope with their last remaining ounce of strength. It would then be more difficult for the Children of Israel to win the war. This would not be the case if a fourth side were left open for the combatants to flee.  

Parsahat מטות Numbers 32:3 – Twice as written and once in Targum

Numbers 32:3 “Ataroth, and Dibon, and Jazer, and Nimrah, and Heshbon, and Elealeh, and Sebam, and Nebo, and Beon,”

Berachot 8a: Ataroth, and Dibon … Rav Huna the son of Judah said in the name of Rabbi Ami: “A person should always complete his weekly Torah portions with the congregation – twice as written (in Hebrew) and once in Targum (in Aramaic translation) even Ataroth, and Dibon.

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #1:

Rashi comments: even Ataroth, and Dibon, which have no Targum (they read the same in Hebrew and Aramaic).  Tosafot questions why the gemarah specifically mentions Ataroth, and Dibon as opposed to names such as Reuben, Simon, etc.  This question aside, the verse referring to Ataroth, and Dibon has the Jerusalem Targum[1] [which is also cited by Onkelos on this verse].  Tosafot explain that since Ataroth, and Dibon only have a Jerusalem Targum and no well-known one, one might think that one should read the verse in Hebrew three times.  Therefore the gemarah states that it is better to read it a third time in the Aramaic translation.  This explains the difficulty, albeit, their original question remains unanswered.  The Mesoret Hashas emends the gemarah to refer a verse in at the end of parashat Massei that refers to Dibon and Ataroth.  This verse has no Targum, however, this emendation does not answer the question of Tosafot regarding names.  Many of the commentators tried to explain this.

I wonder what led our rabbis to say that the gemarah was emphasizing once in Targum, for it appears clear to me that the intention equally applies to twice in Hebrew.  The explanation is that this verse (referring to Ataroth and Dibon) is not connected to the previous verses nor to the subsequent ones.  One could skip this verse without detracting from the meaning and continuation of the current section.  Here, one could skip from verse 2 to verse 4 without missing anything as it appears.  They said to Moses … (verse 2). The land which the Lord smote … (verse 4).  One might think that in such cases, there is no obligation to read this verse twice in Hebrew and once in Targum, rather once could skip the verse or read it only once.  The gemarah teaches otherwise, that his verse is like every other verse in the Torah, which one must read three times.

This shows the deep understanding of Chazal and their sensitivity.  Such a verse, which, as described above, has no necessary connection to the current section, such that, by omitting it one detracts nothing from the matter at hand.  Even such a verse is treated as individual and unique in the entire Torah.  Take note.

Editor’s Note: If one skips a word or an entire sentence when publicly reading the Torah, the reader must go back to correct the mistake, even if the omission does not detract from the current section.  A Torah scroll is not kosher if even one letter was omitted.  Lest one think that this does not apply to the daily study of Torah, the Torah Temimah shows the sensitivity of Chazal to every verse in the Torah.  Every verse in the Torah is unique and special.  Even if the verse seems superfluous, one must review it three times: twice in Hebrew and once in translation.


[1] There are two versions of the Jerusalem Targum: a fragmentary one and a more complete one.  The more complete one is sometimes incorrectly associated with the translation of Yonatan Ben Uziel whose translation only accompanies the prophets and Hagiographia.  Both of these provide a more homiletic translation than Onkelos who provides a more literal translation

Parsahat מטות Numbers 30:2 – Annulment of Vows

Numbers 30:2 “And Moses spoke unto the heads of the tribes of the children of Israel, saying: This is the thing which the LORD hath commanded.”

Nedarim 78a: “This is the thing.  A beraita teaches: This is the thing.  A scholar releases a vow and a husband annuls.  Based on this, Rabbi Yochanan says a scholar who uses the language of the husband [annulment] or a husband who uses the language of a scholar [release], his words are ineffective.”

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #2:

Regarding a husband, the Torah explicitly states in this parasha the language of annulment: “But if her husband make them null and void … (Numbers 30:13).  That a scholar releases vows, we learn from what is written later “he shall not break his word” (number 30:3).  The interpretation is that he who made the vow may not break his word, but others can break his vow for him from the language of secular.  The language of release applies to things that are secular.  The hindrance sited in the beraita is supported on the language of the verse “This is the thing” which implies it must be as written in the Torah.

The Rashbam on Baba Kama 120A, works hard to explain why switching languages does not work to annul a vow, even though the scholar and husband have the intention — to nullify the vow.  It appears simple to me since, when a scholar releases one from a vow, the vow is annulled from the beginning.  Since the scholar tries to find and opening or a reason whereby the person was unable or not allowed to make the vow, he uproots the vow from the beginning as if it never existed.  Not so the husband.  The Torah does not give him the permission to uproot his wife’s vow from the beginning, rather he is allowed to nullify it as the verse states.  The Ran writes on this matter in Nedarim that release implies retroactively uprooting and annulment implies from now henceforth.  According to this, when a scholar uses the language of annulment and a husband uses the language of release, they are using language that the Torah did not grant them, thus their words have no power.  Take Note.

According to this it comes out that only the language of annulment is ineffective for a scholar, but all other language that implies nullification and retroactive release, such as, “permitted to you” and the like, are effective.  That which the Gemara specifies the language of release is because it specified one of the languages that imply retroactive nullification, when in truth, any such language is effective in releasing a vow.

How well this explains the words of the Jerusalem Talmud (Nedarim chapter 10 halachah 8) that a scholar can release a vow using any of the following language: “there is no vow”, “there is no oath”.  This is as written the all language that implies retroactive annulment is effective in releasing a vow.

The Ran on this matter in Nedarim cites these words of the Jerusalem Talmud.  He states: “it appears from the Jerusalem Talmud that a scholar can also release a vow by saying ‘there is no vow’ or ‘there is no oath'”  The commentary Shirei Korban on the Jerusalem Talmud writes “I find his words [the Ran] difficult, because they imply that a husband can use such language to nullify a vow, but our matter [in the Babylonian Talmud], implies that only a scholar, not a husband, can say “there is no vow”.

I am deeply troubled that a significant Torah Giant, such as him, erred in the words of the Ran, whose intent was clear and simple.  A scholar can also release vows saying “there is no vow”, etc.  The word also was misinterpreted to mean that a scholar also (in addition to the husband) when one should  interpret it that a scholar can also (use similar language).  I would not have written this because of the clarity, only so that a student not err by trying to find meaning in the words of the Shirei Korban who interprets the Ran as allowing to husband to nullify vows status “there is no vow”, which clearly contradicts the widely accepted halachah of the Talmud in Nedarim.

Behold, as we have written, it is clear that a scholar can release a vow using any language that implies release.  Based on this reason the halachah in Yoreh Deah 228:3 explains the process for releasing a vow.  They say three times to the person who made the vow: “permitted to you”, “allowed to you” or “pardoned to you:. The reason for stating this three times is not because the law requires it.  It became customary to say it three times for emphasis.  See the commentaries there.  It appears that the custom of saying “permitted to you, etc.”, three times, when annulling vows on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, fulfills the custom mentioned in the Shulhan Aruch.  Yet, since the release of vows mentions: all is permitted to you, all is allowed to you, all is pardoned to you (many languages of releasing vows), they have released the vow two and threefold.  Take note:

Editor’s note: On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, it is customary for one to perform the ceremony of releasing any inadvertent vows that one may have made in the previous year.  Three men sit down as a make shift court of law.  One person stands before them requesting that any inadvertent vows made in the previous year be released. After making the request, the three men sitting inform the person that he is released from his inadvertent vows.  After this annulment, the person who was standing sits down.  One of those sitting arises to request that his inadvertent vows be released.  This process repeats until all four have asked that their inadvertent vows be released.  Although this is only a custom, the Torah Temimah shows how this is rooted in the halachah.  Not only do the three men mention the release of vows three times, they also restate this using different phrases that indicate the release of vows.  In this note, the Torah Temimah also shows that halachah need not be complicated.  He clearly explains, based on earlier sources, what other commentaries worked hard to explain.  He also states that one should not overcomplicate matters such that they contradict widely accepted halachic ruling and practice.