Mattot & Masei
For the week of July 14, 2007 / 28 Tammuz 5767
Torah: Bemidbar / Numbers 30:2 - 36:13
Haftarah: Jeremiah 2:4-28; 3:4


Household Responsibility

When a young woman still living in her father's house makes a vow to the LORD or obligates herself by a pledge and her father hears about her vow or pledge but says nothing to her, then all her vows and every pledge by which she obligated herself will stand. (Bemidbar / Numbers 30:3,4)

The Torah gives us an interesting perspective on household responsibility. The context of its directives on this issue assumes that a husband and father is to take responsibility for his wife and daughters respectively. Before we get into the main thing I wish to address, I want to mention that, contrary to what some may think, the Torah's understanding of the husband's and father's role in the household in no way degrades the worth of women. In fact the equality of males and females is made clear by the statement that vows made by widows and divorcees are binding (30:9). If women lacked value before God and within Israelite society, then their vows would be worthless or easily deemed invalid. The specific issue we are looking at, namely household responsibility, is not about the worth of individuals, but about the roles pertaining to households, in particular the special role given by God to husbands and fathers.

The Torah teaches that if a wife or daughter makes a vow (a promise to God), and her husband or father hears about it, he has the right to nullify it. But if he says nothing about it, then the vow stands. This clearly outlines for us the delineation of responsibility within the household. It is important to note that if the husband or father says nothing, then the vow is binding. If he nullifies it after a period of time, then "he is responsible for her guilt" (30:15).

I have the impression that we live in a day when husbands are, for the most part, disengaged from family life. Whether or not the husband and father is physically present with his family, fewer and fewer fathers get involved in the aspirations and desires of their wives and daughters. These principles apply to sons as well, though the context here is specifically wives and daughters.

Our passage assumes a certain level of involvement on the part of husbands and fathers. This kind of involvement is not simply about car pooling, family vacations, or other occasions when a man might just be present with his family. This kind of involvement implied by our passage is that when a husband or father is engaged sufficiently to hear and interact with the aspirations and desires of his wife and daughters.

The most crucial thing to understand before we can be the godly husbands and fathers we are called to be is that it is we who bear responsibility before God for our wives and daughters. Husbands and fathers will answer to God for their families. I know this is contrary to what many cultures believe today. I also know that this is contrary to what many people who adhere to the Bible believe today. But if this is the Torah's perspective on the delineation of responsibility in the household and this same perspective is expressed throughout the entire Bible, then accepting our special role of responsibility is necessary if we want to build godly households.

Too many men today, out of fear and intimidation, avoid confronting their families with what they know is right. God calls husbands and fathers to create the kind of boundaries in our homes that will protect our families from harm and lead them effectively in God's ways. This does not mean we run their lives for them or think on their behalf. But when they seek to step outside God's boundaries and we know better, God expects us to speak up. We will answer to God for every time we have failed to do so.

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