Monday, July 1, 2013

Parashat Mattot-Oaths, Vows, and Never Remaining Silent

This week we approach the conclusion of the Book of Numbers, and we read Parashat Mattot. The portion talks about the subject of "vows" and "oaths" that we make. We know that words are powerful, and we should always think carefully before we use the gift of words. The focus is really about the vows that women make.

"If a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath imposing an obligation on himself, he shall not break his pledge; he must carry out all that has crossed his lips.  If a woman makes a vow to the Lord or assumes an obligation while still in her father's household by reason of her youth, and her father learns of her vow or her self-imposed obligation and offers no objection, all her vows shall stand and every self-imposed obligation shall stand. But if her father restrains her on the day he finds out, none of her vows or self-imposed obligations shall stand; and the Lord will forgive her, since her father restrained her." (Numbers 30:4-9)

Most of us today find this a bit shocking....all those feelings that stir within us about the nature of relationships and social status. But, it's true. When a man made a vow or took an oath, he was required to "carry out all that has crossed his lips". While women were allowed to make vows, these could actually be cancelled out by the male authority in her life if he renounced the vow when he heard it. So, providing that he does so quickly, and not keep silent, the women's father or husband can cancel out the vows made by a woman. There was no option to keep silent. Silence was giving it an OK.  Once you knew what the vow was, and you didn't speak up, you were now responsible for it. The motivation was to become accountable for what was going on around you.

So, if vows were so important, why could a woman's word be virtually wiped out by her husband or her father? That doesn't say much about the value of a woman's word in Biblical times. We HAVE come a long way. All people ARE created equal. (That means race, gender, class, religion sexual orientation, disability, what we look like, or where we come from) A person's gender shouldn't affect their ability to achieve great things. Equal Opportunity means Equal Opportunity.

We can never remain silent. Once we do, we are saying that everything is OK. If we disagree with something, we must speak up right away. It's our obligation to do so.

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