This Week’s Torah Portion – Parashat Mattot (Numbers 30:2-32:42)

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This week we study Parashat Mattot (Numbers 30:2-32:42).

* This week’s Torah portion is concerned with vows. It doesn’t like people making vows. The Torah enforces all sorts of restrictions about vows. The Torah lets men feel in charge because they have 24 hours to revoke a wife or daughter’s vow. I think this is more about a man feeling in charge of his domain than actually giving men power. It is similar to the Torah’s approach to slavery — evolutionary not revolutionary. The Torah makes slavery difficult. It makes it difficult to annul the vows of his wife and daughter, giving him but 24 hours.

* Do modern men need to man up and take charge of their households? I was raised to believe that the man has the final vote in the home. He’s the one in charge because he is more rational and less ruled by his emotions. I had this modern atheist Jewish girlfriend who said to me, “You are so afraid to set limits on me, but when you do, I’m just a meek little lamb.”

Women don’t respect it when you let them do what they want. They only respect you and only feel safe if you step up at the right times and protect them from their worst enemy — themselves. I remember I had this girlfriend who wants speaking back to the cops for giving her a ticket for letting her dog run loose in West Hollywood, and I had to calm her down and wind her down.

I tend to be way too passive and way too weak in relationships. I shy away from conflict. As a result, women think I’m a pansy. They walk all over me. They have disdain for me. Oy, I need to man up. In most interpersonal conflicts, even with men, I shy away. It is rare that I step up and make a stand.

* The Torah doesn’t like people taking on unnecessary religious restrictions. All religions tend to ascetism, to a hatred of pleasure. One of the things I appreciate about many Hasidic Jews, as opposed to the more Lithuanian strands of Judaism, is how much they enjoy life.

* Torah has guidelines for everything, even taking on ascetic practices. If you want to afflict yourself, the Torah has guidelines.

* Another point this Torah portion emphasizes is the sanctity of speech. Words are things. They matter. They have power. You can create your own halachic (Jewish law) status through vows. I am impressed when I meet someone who takes language seriously. I like people who obey the laws of proper usage aka spelling and grammar. I respect people who say what they mean and mean what they say. It’s a great guide to someone’s character. I find that the verbally slick are usually rascals. One mark of a good man is that he will take trouble with his words and be willing to be awkward to find the right meaning.

* Moshe tells the Israelites to take vengeance against Midian (Num. 31) but when they bring back women alive, he gets mad and commands that all women who’ve had sex must be slaughtered. It’s easy to read the Koran and say it is a bloodthirsty book but so is this week’s parasha.

* When Moshe commands the Jews to wipe out the Midianites, he does not say anything about making exceptions for the mentally ill. Nor does the written Torah make any exceptions for capitol punishment for the mentally ill. So this freak in New York, Levi Aron, who apparently tortured and murdered a kid, Leiby Kletzky, should fry. I don’t buy that you never execute the mentally retarded. If they are not smart enough to know that it is wrong to murder people, then why do they try to get away? Why don’t they just hang around the murder site and tell people, yeah I did it? If they don’t know murder is wrong, then that is an argument that they should be executed so they don’t murder again.

* Kosher utensils are a far greater concern of Torah (Num. 31:23) than they are of me. I gotta face it. The Torah is suspicious of the world outside of Torah and things from the outside world that want to enter the Torah world have to go through a trial by fire, including would-be converts. A big concern of Torah is keeping Jews separate from non-Jews. You can’t just say, “I need to love my neighbor as myself” and go out and bang shiksas.

* Jews are good at pointing out flaws. The Jewish tradition argues with God. The midrash finds flaws in Moshe’s behavior. Jews have often been societal revolutionaries. Jews are good at deconstructing society and finding its flaws. Most Jews are not radicals but many radicals are Jews.

* Twenty three verses on how the booty is given out. It is to make war more civilized.

* How do you deal when your email goes unanswered? I tell myself that no answer is an answer. It’s just an answer that I don’t like.

* When you hear about a rabbi dating someone half his age, do you have more or less respect for him or is your opinion unchanged? I think that when a man of 40, say, dates a woman of 20, say, it indicates that much of him is emotionally 20 years old. I’ve dated women half my age. I think it probably indicates a lack of maturity on my part. There’s a relief with dating someone your own age. Conversation is easier. Your concerns and life experiences are more similar. What do you talk about with someone half your age? Do you have any other friends half your age that you hang out with and have deep conversations?

On the other hand, I love dating women half my age. They’re not as cynical. They’re more open to learning from you. They’re not as hardened. They’re more enthusiastic about life. They’re less set in their ways. They’re better looking. They make me feel young.

There’s an old saw that when a man dates a much younger woman, it’s not so much her youth that he’s chasing but his own.

I dig how angry many women my age and older get when I date someone half my age. Many women bitterly resent this. I remember how much it upset my friend Cathy Seipp who would say the cruelest things to me about the young women I dated.

Dating is the one thing in life that most people don’t get better at as they age. They just get hardened. More cynical. More closed off.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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