My notes on Matot

Parashat Matot

Numbers 30

30:9          But every vow of a widow, and of her that is divorced, wherewith they have bound their souls, shall stand against her.

Comment: Some modern people may be unhappy to see that the Bible allows the vows of a woman to be annulled by a male family head. However, there are exceptions in the Bible. Here, we find that the widows and divorced women possess full rights on validation of their vows. However, in fact they are less fortunate since they don’t have husbands to annul their vows. In faith, having a higher authority above oneself is not always a negative thing; conversely, superficial “freedom” or “right” may not be a positive thing.


30:13          Every vow, and every binding oath to afflict the soul, her husband may establish it, or her husband may make it void.

Comment: The woman’s oath can be annulled by her husband; but this is actually good for her, since she doesn’t have to be binded by her oath to afflict herself.


Numbers 31

31:17          Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.

Comment: I don’t understand why here Moses wants the Midianite boys to be killed, maybe he is afraid that these boys would become a national threat if allowed to grow up? Gd’s command in v31:2 was only to take revenge on the Midianites and didn’t specify how.  Moses has to use his own discretion in this particular case. Fortunately, this is only a one-time event, the Torah did not instruct us to imitate Moses’ discretion on killing little boys nowadays. 

Moses is not only the greatest prophet, he also personally knows the Midianites best among all Israelites. Moses himself took refuge in Midian in his younger years and married a Midianite woman (Exodus 2). He respected his Midianite father in law (Exodus 18) and invited him to join the Israelites’ journey (Numbers 10). Obviously he is not a racist. Now he becomes the most vehement voice in demanding harsh punishment on the Midianites. There must be a valid reason for this, even though the Torah did not specify why. In the modern day wars, no nation or leader is qualified to freely mimic such a harsh decision from Moses, the greatest biblical prophet.

Even though this episode cannot be literally mimicked nowadays, it teaches us an important moral lesson. For one, moral depravity is deadly to G-d’s people (which led to 24,000 killed in the plague.)  Secondly,  in order to prevent big troubles in the future, we have to be very careful about seemingly innocent things, such as eating lunch together individually with a coworker of the opposite gender. Even reading romantic novels with enticing descriptions could eventually erode the moral standard.  In this Bible episode, the Midianite women and children don’t bear arms, and ordinarily people don’t regard them as dangerous; however, the greatest prophet Moses makes a distinction among them and acutely concludes that they are all fatally dangerous in the long run, with the exception of the little girls.


Numbers 32

32:1          Now the children of Reuben and the children of Gad had a very great multitude of cattle: and when they saw the land of Jazer, and the land of Gilead, that, behold, the place was a place for cattle;

Comment: These two tribes chose to live on the east side of the Jordan River, outside of Israel. This choice was later approved by Moses. Gd Himself did not state His opinion at all in the Torah about their choice. In modern days there are many situations like this. We are allowed to make our own choices and Gd doesn’t directly intervene. We have to learn from Moses to weigh the pros and cons, to avoid potential negative impacts (such as in v7, to avoid discouraging the other tribes’ quest of the promised land), and to prepare for multiple possibilities (such as in v29,30, what if the Reubenites and the Gadites will cross the Jordan, and what if they won’t). The event happens to be a success: the two tribes get what they want, without hurting the interest of the other tribes. However, it’s possible that the original plan is better in the long run. See a related article

          And Moses gave unto them, even to the children of Gad, and to the children of Reuben, and unto half the tribe of Manasseh the son of Joseph, the kingdom of Sihon king of the Amorites, and the kingdom of Og king of Bashan, the land, with the cities thereof in the coasts, even the cities of the country round about.

Comment: According to Moses’ arrangement, the tribe of Manasseh spans both the east side and the west side of the Jordan River. They function as a bridge between the two sides of Gd’s people. Jewish Christians also function as a bridge between the Christians and the Jews. Although I was first baptized as a Christian, I learned a lot about the Jewish culture from a Jewish Christian’s website