Mattot and Masei
For the week of July 17, 2004 / 28 Tammuz 5764
Torah: Bemidbar / Numbers 30:2 - 36:13; 28:9-15
Haftarah: Jeremiah 2:4-28; 3:4
Originally published the week of July 21, 2001 / 1 Av 5761

Responsibility

But if her husband says nothing to her about it from day to day, then he confirms all her vows or the pledges binding on her. He confirms them by saying nothing to her when he hears about them (Bemidbar / Numbers 30:14).

This week's double parasha contains some interesting instructions about a woman's vow. If her father if she is unmarried - or her husband hears about a vow or obligation she makes, and he doesn't nullify it, she is obliged to fulfill it.

These instructions sound strange to us in our day, because we tend to view ourselves as independent of each other. Most people I know do not think that fathers and husbands have this kind of authority over their daughters and wives. But that's not what I want to get into this week.

Once the father or husband heard about the vow, he shared responsibility for it. In fact in verse 15, if he decided to nullify it after some time had passed, he became fully responsible for it. The fact that he said nothing or did nothing, had nothing to do with it. It was the hearing of it that made him responsible.

This illustrates how God views our role in many of the situations we find ourselves in. We tend to think that whatever happens to others is their own responsibility. But in reality we are responsible for each other.

This doesn't apply to every situation. We must discern when our involvement is called for. But while some people would do well to be less involved in others' lives, most of us would likely do well to get more involved.

This also doesn't mean that we should react to gossip and rumors. But once we understand that the welfare of others actually depends on us, then we may be more motivated to find out what is really going on around us.

So many people are stumbling about in life today, trying to find their own way. A sense of family or community responsibility is almost non-existent in many of our societies. Because we are not taking responsibility for those around us, people look to non-relational institutions for help and guidance, whether it be government agencies or paid professionals.

The Torah tells us that if the husband waited too long, then he would be responsible for his wife's guilt . I wonder how many difficult situations we could help others avoid if only we would be quick to get involved.

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