The Torah portion, or parasha, this week is Matot-Masei and is found in Numbers 30:2-36:13. This portion first talks about vows made by women (vows made by men were addressed in an earlier Torah portion). If a woman makes a vow but her father (while she is living at home and too young to leave) or her husband forbids her to carry out the vow, the vow will be annulled and she will not be bound by it. Otherwise, if her father or husband approves, she may keep the vow and carry it out. She will also be bound to that vow and if she chooses to break it, she will follow the ritual customs men do if they wish to break a vow. In the second section of the portion, the Israelites take revenge on the Midianites whose women had come into the camp to entice the men to commit the immoral sexual acts mentioned in the last week’s Torah portion. God had punished the Israelites with a plague. Now the Israelites go to war with the Midianites, conquer them, and kill Balaam, the sorcerer mentioned in the recent parasha who was unable to curse the people but conjured the idea to send the Midianite women into the Israelite camp to cause the people to sin and incur God’s wrath. In returning with their booty, ironically, some of the men return with the very women that had enticed the Israelite men. Moses has the women killed, but other women brought home who were virgins were spared. The Israelites divide the gold, silver, and other items they collected in battle and give a portion to Moses and Aaron as a gift back to God for the victory.
We learn the following insights from this parasha: First, the inclusion of special protection for women who make vows is important because in that day and age, women were subject to their parents or their spouses. This protection allowed women not to be punished for not carrying out a vow that they did not have the power to carry out. Although we do not have those societal restrictions in America today, we should be sensitive to others who make promises to us and are unable to keep them. Likewise, we should also try to keep the promises we make to others when it is possible for us to do so. Second, we learn that it is hard sometimes to let go of the things that keep us from doing what we are supposed to do. It is difficult to follow a weight loss plan if we leave our favorite cookies on the counter, or spend more time with the family if we leave the TV remote out on the table without a plan for a family activity. May this Torah portion inspire us to look more closely at what we do, what we want to be, and help us remove the barriers in our lives that keep us from getting there.