Who’s in Charge Here?
For example, in teaching releases from vows, Moshe addresses the heads of the tribes: “You’re responsible!” In the war against Midian, Moshe addresses the commanders and says: “You’re responsible!” In the conquest of the land, Moshe addresses the descendants of Reuven and Gad, the wealthiest tribes, and reminds them: “You’re responsible – take responsibility!” And the perpetrator of an accidental homicide, who must flee to a city of refuge, remains there until the death of the Kohen Gadol –
what’s the connection? “You have to be responsible,” Rashi understands this as addressing the Kohen Gadol. “You’re responsible for ensuring that in your generation there will be no bloodshed.”1
In other words: you have responsibility. The results are on your shoulders.
How is that connected to this time of year? Av is the month of the av – the father! and his responsibility.
Parashat Mattot opens with a father who cancels his daughter’s vows. She takes a vow, putting herself into a
1 Bemidbar 35:25 and Rashi ad loc.
There’s also such a moving verse at the end of the ֵאֶּלהַהֻחִּקיםֲאֶּשרִּצָּוהה'ֶּאתמֶֹּשהֵביןִּאישְלִּאְשתֹו,“:section These are the statutes – ֵבין ָּאב ְל ִּבת ֹו ִּב ְנ ֻע ֶּרי ָּה ֵבית ָּא ִּבי ָּה that Hashem commanded Moshe and Bnei Yisrael between a man and his wife, between a father and his daughter, during her youth in his home.”2
Rabbi Yaakov Abuhatzeira says: you’re like a little girl to your Father. During Av a Jewish woman must turn to Hashem and say, “Ribbono Shel Olam, maybe I’ve sinned; I might have ruined my life with my own hands” (so many girls say that to me!).
Well... oK, little girl. Abba’s here. Tell Him this: “Abba, You’re responsible now. It could be that I’ve destroyed all sorts of really important values. I’m in Your hands and You’re the grown-up here, Abba. Come along during this month and say, ‘It is permitted to you. It is canceled for you.’3 Your daughter restricted herself by mistake, with sin and guilt? Release her from it, Ribbono Shel Olam.”4
It raises feminist hackles. “What’s this paternalism?? A woman takes a vow – who are you to undo it?” But it’s not arrogant paternalism. Father, Father, Abba, is taking responsibility. It’s amazing.
3 Bava Batra 120b.
4 Rabbi Yaakov Abuhatzeira, Pittuhei Hotam.
There’s one man who takes responsibility for women’s suffering – the Kohen Gadol. And just as we read in the parasha this Shabbat, at the death of the Kohen Gadol you can leave the city of refuge. The Kohen Gadol, Aharon HaKohen, died on Rosh Chodesh Av, as our parasha mentions. It’s the only yahrtzeit mentioned in the Torah. ,ַבחֶֹּדש ַהֲחִּמיִּשי ְבֶּאָּחד ַלחֶֹּדש - In the fifth month – i.e. Av – on the first of the month8, Rosh Chodesh Av, Aharon the Kohen Gadol died. He was the only one who took care of Israelite women’s beauty concerns during the long journey through the wilderness. He brought the Clouds of Glory,9 and our Sages explain that those were the desert’s Super- Pharm. Within the Clouds of Glory were perfumes and jewelry for the women so they would feel good about themselves during the odyssey.10
And he dies for you – you’re to die for – and we know that because in his death he says to you, “I’m freeing you now, my daughter. I’m taking responsibility for you. לֹא יֹו ִּסיף ְל ַהְגלֹו ֵת ְך. ַתם ֲע ֹוֵנ ְך, ַבת ִּציֹון – He will no longer exile you. Your iniquity is finished, daughter of Tziyon.11 Here comes Abba to take you.”
Today and tomorrow, into Rosh Chodesh Av, is a wonderful time to light a candle for Aharon HaKohen, and to ask him to intercede for the Jewish women –
7 Yirmeyahu 2:23-24.
8 Bemidbar 33:38.
9 Taanit 9a and Midrash Tanchuma Bemidbar 2.
10 Midrash Tehillim 23 and Devarim Rabba7 cited in Kli Yakar on Devarim 8:4.
11 Eicha 4:22.
So here, here comes your time as a daughter; your Father is coming to take you. May we have a good month.