[For articles on the “Sabbath of MATOT " in Hebrew, click here] [For articles about Purim, click here]
Rabbi Dr. Yossi Feintuch was born in Afula and holds a Ph.D. in American history from Emory University in Atlanta. He taught American history at Ben-Gurion University.
Author of the book US Policy on Jerusalem (JCCO).
He now serves as rabbi at the Jewish Center in central Oregon. (JCCO).
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In this weekly portion of Matot that discusses releasing a woman ("isha") from a vow that she had taken, God permits the father of a non-married woman to effectively cancel out her oath, but only on the same day that he heard out his daughter’s vow. Thanks to the initiative of the father, or for that matter also of the woman’s ‘’man’’ (or husband, i.e., "ishah’’), who preferred to take an action, rather than to keep mum, God would be willing to forgive any such a vow.
Nevertheless, should the woman fail in living up to her verbal commitment, her husband ‘’shall bear her guilt’’, or face the consequences of his woman’s unfulfilled commitment (Numbers, 30:14-16). Point being, any such vows become attributable to the father or to the husband unless either one rescinded or modified them. It is up to the father, or to the husband, then, to either authenticate the vow (through silence), or revoke it.
Now, let’s move from the Book of Numbers to the Book of Esther. It looks very plausible that Mordechai is familiar with this very matter. Indeed, he uses it efficiently in his words with Queen Esther urging her to take an action and nullify the writ signed and sealed by her husband -- (in Hebrew ‘’ishah’’; it sounds exactly like ‘’a woman’’ – ‘’isha’’, but it means in the context ''her man''). That decree authorized Haman and his henchmen to obliterate the Jews in the Persian Empire. Mordechai thus sends a message to Esther: ‘’…For if you hold your peace at this time, then relief will be delivered to the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish’’ (Esther 4:14). In other words, no matter what you do, the vow that your husband took will fail. But if it fails without your active role in bringing it about you, Esther, will be lost.
Mordechai does not look at the word ‘’ishah’’ (‘’her man’’) through a narrow prism as it may be in this weeklyTorah portion referring to the vower’s husband. Rather he understands it in a more encompassing or creative way to also mean ‘’isha’’, a woman, Namely, Queen Esther whose husband (manipulated by Haman’s nefarious scheming) vowed calamitously against Persia’s Jews. Yet, since that vow shall not be realized because relief will come to the Jews from ‘’another place’’— the responsibility and consequences of that decree not being realized would soon be leveled against her. If Vashti was dethroned, Esther could lose her royal tiara too.
What Mordechai does is to warn Esther, whose husband took a foul vow, that if she did not rescind her husband’s decree by compelling him to upend his vow, then Esther will be held accountable for the king’s failure to realize his vow to Haman, because succor to the Jews will come from ‘’another place’’. Eather’s only good option is being proactive in upending her husband’s decree.
Did Mordechai manipulate the words of the Torah in this weekly portion? Even if he did so consciously it was done to shield Esther from dire consequences – what happened to Vashti could be repeated in her case too – when the decree against the Jews fails and Esther would be held responsible and guilty for that. Mordechai truly believed that Esther’s only viable option was to effectively rescind her husband’s decree, and release him from the vow that he had made to Haman; a vow that was bound to flop and result with Esther being the one to be blamed for it. What the Torah allows the husband in this weekly portion, Mordechai felt, should be allowed to the wife as well, if only under the circumstances; hence, his creative interpretation. Esther thus rescinds her husband's decree against her people and in so doing she spares herself from severe consequences that would follow her in the wake of the failure of the decree, if not due to Esther taking an active role in foiling it.