Stuck with a Stick
By Rabbi Label Lam
Moshe spoke to the heads of the tribes (MATOS) of the children of Israel,
saying: This is the thing (Davar) HASHEM has commanded. If a man makes a vow
to HASHEM or makes an oath to prohibit himself, he shall not degrade his
speech (D’varo); according to whatever came out of his mouth, he shall do.
Here we have a chapter in the holy Torah named “sticks”. That’s what MATOS
means. It is the term that describes the branches/ the tribes as various
parts emanating from a common, singular trunk, root system, and seed. I am
struck and stuck with this word “stick”. What’s in a word?
When Moshe introduces the laws surrounding the making of vows, an unusual
introduction is employed: “This is the thing-matter-Davar”. “This” implies
something that can be seen of pointed to concretely. Just as when the then
entire nation when through the split sea, there was a collective
declaration, “This is my G-d…” Rashi is compelled to tell us that everyone,
even the least likely candidates, shared a unique vision of the loftiest of
spiritual dimensions. When the laws of declaring a new moon was given to
Moshe he is told, “This month is for you…” Rashi is again forced to explain
that Moshe was shown a sliver of a new moon as a visual aid. What is the
meaning of “this” in “this is the D’var HASHEM”? Where is the concrete
object being referred to?
This is all an introduction to the power of vows. Moshe delivers the
commandment, “he shall not violate (make profane) his word- “D’varo”.
“Davar” means a thing- a matter, and “D’var” means speech?
What is the common denominator between speech and thing? The Talmud tells
us, “The kingship of the earth is like the kingship of the heavenly domain.”
That means that there is a correspondence, a metaphorical parallelism
between the physical and the spiritual realm.
Therefore it is not just a flight of fancy or a cute metaphor if we observe
that just as there is in the physical universe three states of matter, so it
is in the spiritual world. Everything is either in a state of being solid,
liquid, or gas. Water can be frozen solid like a rock, or can be fluid and
flowing like a river, or it can be floated away in an invisible cloud of
vapor. Everything we do as humans is either in the form of thought, speech,
or action. Thought is more hidden like water in a gaseous form. Speech is a
more concretized form of the same substance. Action is real-solid and
What we learn here is that speech, the things we say, what flows o’ so
easily from our mouths is not only one step closer to hard reality. It is a
force of physical reality already. It is not only potential or almost
something. It is closer to the solid side of the equation than it is to the
airy and abstract. Water is heavy. Water is powerful. It can be a life
giving force and it can be a devastating force.
So it is that speech can be a life giving force, and it can be a devastating
force. That is the introduction to exercising extreme care in the
declaration of vows. What we say is powerful. Once it passes the discrete
filters of the mind and it exits the mouth, it becomes a force in our lives
to reckon with.
Alternately, everything in this world is a result of the speech of HASHEM.
The universe is created and made concrete by the speech of The Almighty. The
world itself and everything in it is speaking. Every Davar is an expression
of HASHEM, an actual D’var.
Matos- sticks are also articulate. When the juices of life, the waters
absorbed by the roots, flow successfully up through the xylem and the
phylum, defying gravity and navigating the veins of the tree, then
miraculously we have beautiful flowers and delicious fruits. When speech is
degraded we are stuck with a stick.
DvarTorah, Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Label Lam and Torah.org.