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Parashat Mattot-Massei: Numbers 30:2-36:13

Many people take objection to the concept of rabbinic authority and the corpus of Jewish law, which includes the Mishnah and Talmud. They see these rabbinic works as “adding” manmade laws to the Scriptures, because indeed they contain countless laws that do not seem to appear in the Scriptures themselves. Therefore, these rabbinic works are seen as violating one of the primary principles of Scripture, to not add to the Scripture. The prooftext for this prohibition is found in Deuteronomy:

“Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.” (Deuteronomy 12:32)

And while we do need to be extremely cautious with anything that is not clearly spelled out in Scripture, we should also realize that the Scriptures themselves give a person permission to add to its own list of obligations and prohibitions. How so? This week’s portion gives us the answer: “If a man vows a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth” (Numbers 30:2). When we make a vow or an oath, we have created a new restriction upon ourselves that is above and beyond the commandments of the Scriptures, but is on the same par with them in regard to obligation. We have, in a sense, “added” to Scripture, but with the permission of Scripture.

There is an instance recorded for us where this privilege backfires because of a foolish vow. In the book of Judges, we read about a man named Jephthah who made a foolish vow to the LORD in order to gain victory over Israel’s enemies. He made this declaration:

If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the LORD's, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering. (Judges 11:30–31)



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