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Parshios Matos & Masei

You Can’t Get More Local or Global Than That!

By Rabbi Label Lam

Moshe spoke to the heads of the tribes of the Children of Israel saying: This is the thing that HASHEM has commanded: If a man takes a vow to HASHEM or swears an oath to establish a prohibition upon himself, he shall not desecrate his word; according to whatever comes from his mouth shall he do. (Bamidbar 30:2-3)

Why is this subject of vows connected to “Matos”- the heads of the tribes? Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch ztl. explains that Matos- are literally “branches” and these community leaders are to look at the tribe as a branch of the of the great nation as a whole. “It was the task of the heads of the tribes to guide and then to keep the manners and customs which arose from the special tendencies of each of the “branches”.

Here we shift focus from a general overview of the structure of the national calendar and the formal placement of tribes within the context of the whole unit and we turns to a more and more local level of self-governance. Why is the subject of honesty in vows and the laws concerning such utterances within the privacy of the home relevant here?

Again, we look to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch in his commentaries on the Haggadah. In the Mid-1800’s he writes perhaps prophetically, or maybe it’s another case of, as the phrase goes, “the more things change the more they stay the same”:

To inherit a home and to build a home - this encompasses a Jew's ethical vocation on earth. Is it not the sine qua non for the hopes and perfection of all nations? If only this great Magna Carta were consulted wherever education and culture, peace and salvation of men and mankind are discussed. For the fate of men, their success or failure, is decided neither in the chambers of rulers nor on the battlefield. It is not decided in business concerns, in colleges and institutions of arts and sciences or in houses of worship. It is sealed only in one place, in the parental home...

There exists no substitute for the home, and if one is looking elsewhere for the source of peace and prosperity, he is searching in vain. All of a nations politics and diplomacy, its theories of national economy and institutions for mass education, its trade and industry, its schools and community centers - none of these will save the people from extinction if they let the parental home become a parody.

Are children born for the sake of the state's false concern instead of the warm love of parents? Does the census show ever-growing numbers of children without parents and parents without children? Does the nation's high society make a mockery of morality and modesty? If so, then all the palaces it is building are founded on quicksand."

There’s bumper sticker I agree with strongly. I believe it expresses what may be one of the most central points of Torah life: “THINK GLOBAL! ACT LOCAL” I know it sounds pretty simple. It even seems too obvious. We are to fix the world by making ourselves as much as possible in the image of G-d and not the other way around!

Imagine how upside down the world begins to get or just look around- when common people and leaders instead “think locally- primarily about their own personal interests while acting global- being critical of everyone they see or read about or even launching seemingly well-meaning initiatives to fix specifically those matters they have not yet cured within themselves at home”!

The Torah recognizes here that the Nation of Israel and society as a whole are built not just from tribes, and families, and individuals, but from the integrity of their words. After all the whole world was created from and is maintained by the everlasting word of HASHEM, as we recite daily, “Blessed is He Who speaks and does (what He says)!” Is that not the stuff on which the world reliably stands!? You can’t get more global or local than that?

DvarTorah, Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Label Lam and



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