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    Speaking to the leaders – Mattot

    Moses Children of IsraelMoses expounds the laws of vows “to the heads of the tribes of the Children of Israel” (Num. 30:2).

    We are surprised that this seems a rather limited declaration addressed to the leaders rather than a general proclamation to the people as a whole.

    One possible explanation is that this was a sort of ancient microphone. Moses did not have a loud enough voice to be heard by the whole assemblage of Israel, so he gathered the tribal leaders and gave them the message. Each leader then did the same to the elders of their own tribes, and in this way Moses’ words were imparted, published and promulgated amongst the whole Israelite camp.

    This method was not limited to this specific subject but was utilised for all of Moses’ div’rei Torah.

    The Ramban (Nachmanides), on the other hand, explains the procedure as intended for quite a different purpose. It was not that the people had no right to know this particular set of laws, but if the laws had been proclaimed in their entirety to the whole people there would have been questions, grumbles and complaints, and most people would have misunderstood.

    Laws which give a father power to annul some of the vows uttered by a daughter are an example. Power in a husband to annul some of his wife’s vows is another instance. There needed to be a more nuanced way of explaining the Torah system of vows and vowing.

    The leaders knew their people and could couch the message in terms appropriate to their audience.

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