We hope you enjoy this selection of short divrei Torah, presented to family and guests at our Shabbos table as a springboard for discussion. Each one is followed by a question. The responses shared at our table are enlightening, entertaining, and always thought-provoking.
Please share them at your own Shabbos table, and send us your most interesting responses. A selection of the best will be posted on the website, and eventually, included in a book.
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Parshas Matos #1
“And Moshe spoke to the heads of the Tribes of the Children of Israel saying, this is what Hashem has commanded. If a man makes a vow to Hashem or swears an oath to bind himself with a prohibition, he shall not desecrate his word. In keeping with all that he spoke, he shall do” (Bamidbar 30:2-3).
Parshas Matos begins with the laws of making, fulfilling, and annulling vows. The way Moshe taught these particular halachos was unusual; rather than speaking to the entire nation, he addressed them only to “the heads of the Tribes.” All of the Torah’s laws should be relevant to every Jew. Why were these halachos an exception?
The Ramban writes that it was preferable for it not to be common knowledge that under certain circumstances, a young girl’s father or a woman’s husband can annul her vows. A vow is an extremely serious matter. If these laws would become widely known among laymen, vows would be viewed very casually – easy to make, and easy to break. The Princes of the Tribes, the nation’s teachers and leaders, did have to know these halachos, because they would be the ones to guide and instruct the people.
A vow – or any commitment – should not be taken lightly, as we learn from an incident in the life of the Chazon Ish and his brother-in-law, Rav Shmuel Greineman.
It was time for minchah, and there were exactly ten men present to make up the minyan. Rav Greineman told the Chazon Ish that he had to attend a meeting across town in fifteen minutes. If he waited for minchah, he would be late. Should he stay to make the minyan, or should he leave right away, to be on time for the meeting? The Chazon Ish answered with the words of the passuk: “He shall not desecrate his word.” If Rav Greineman had made a commitment to be at the meeting at a certain time, he had to be there, even if it meant that they would be left without a minyan.
Question for Discussion:
We often make commitments, whether to give up bad habits, stick to a diet, or be on time for davening and appointments. Which commitments would you like to be more careful to keep?
“And Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying, take revenge for the Children of Israel against the Midyanites. After that, you will [die and] be gathered unto your people. And Moshe spoke to the nation, saying, draft from among you people [to serve as] an army, and they will set upon Midyan, to exact Hashem’s revenge from Midyan” (Bamidbar 31:1-3).
The Jewish people had a score to settle with Midyan: after Bilam’s failed attempt to curse the Jews in the desert, the Midyanites had instigated a plot which cost twenty-four thousand Jewish lives (Bamidbar 25:1-9). Hashem instructed Moshe to embark on a battle to avenge the Jewish people, and told him that when it was over, Moshe would leave this world.
Chazal teach, “Had Moshe wanted to live several [more] years, he could have lived [longer]” (Bamidbar Rabbah 22:2). He knew that the end of this battle would mean the end of his own life. He could easily have delayed going to war, and extended his life. Despite this, Moshe did not hesitate: immediately and enthusiastically, he summoned the nation to arms (Rashi, Bamidbar 31:3).
After Moshe’s death, Yehoshua was faced with a similar situation. As Moshe’s successor, Yehoshua was to lead the Jewish people into Eretz Yisrael, conquer the thirty-one kings who reigned there, and divide the land among the twelve Tribes. He knew that once he had completed his mission, he would die… and saw no reason to hurry. Earlier, Yehoshua had fought five kings at once and defeated them all. Now he took on only one king at a time, in a long, protracted battle lasting years (Yehoshua 11:18, Rashi and Malbim). Because he had delayed in carrying out this assignment, Hashem reduced Yehoshua’s intended lifespan of one hundred and twenty years by ten, and he passed away earlier, at the age of one hundred and ten (Tanchuma, Matos 4 and Bamidbar Rabbah 22:6, cited by Rabbeinu Bechayye).
Shlomo HaMelech addressed the issue of procrastination in the passuk, “Do not tell your friend, ‘go and come again tomorrow, and I will give [it to you],’ and you [already] have [it now]” (Mishle 3:28). If someone asks us for a favor that we can do for him right away, we should not push him off by saying, “come back tomorrow.” If we can do it now – then now is the time (Metzudas David).
In his commentary on Mishle, the Ohr HaChaim writes that the “friend” in this passuk is Hashem. Hashem’s mitzvos, learning Torah in particular, should not be postponed to an indefinite “tomorrow.” They should be fulfilled promptly, here and now (Rishon L’Tzion on Mishle; see also Malbim).
Procrastination in any form is counterproductive, yet it happens all the time. Notable examples are postponing putting gas in the car, with the risk of getting stuck on the freeway; waiting until the very end of the semester to do assignments, only to find that there are four papers due on the same day; and not filing income tax for two years… The outcome is never good.
Question for Discussion:
What is one thing you procrastinate about, and how can you change this habit?
A very common response to this question was going to sleep on time, a struggle which repeats itself night after night. Bringing the day to a close, including something as simple as getting into the shower, can drag on endlessly, leading to hours of wasted time every night.
The best, and the simplest solution for procrastination is “immediate” – act at once. As soon as we start dragging our feet, we have a problem; whatever it is that needs to be done, may well never be done. If we take care of it right away, we eliminate this risk.
One example is saying a berachah achronah (the blessing recited after eating). It should be said as soon as we finish eating, but the longer we wait, the easier it becomes to either forget it altogether, or forget whether or not we have said it. We try to remember if we did or did not, maybe even asking others if they noticed if we said it, but the best way is to make the berachah promptly.