No Neutrality: Silence Is Assent
The laws of nullifying vows teach us that our silence and inaction in the face of contemporary injustice and oppression is akin to assenting to it.
By Rabbi Bradley Artson
So much goes on every day, that it seems impossible to keep up with the array of human activity.
Troops march to different parts of the globe, unemployment and disease strike specific groups of people, natural disasters ravage a variety of communities, our environment succumbs to human greed, our politicians legislate, initiate and posture. With so many different activities occurring at the same time, all of them of vital importance, how can we possibly keep up?
Because there is simply so much to follow, and there seems to be so little an individual can do to affect any change at all, many of us simply respond by doing nothing at all. Life will go on without us, we reason, so why get all bothered and upset about things we cannot change?
Today's Torah portion speaks, in the language of its own age, to this timeless question--when to get involved. Parashat Mattot addresses the legal issue of the nullification of vows. It records the ancient law that a woman's vows can be nullified by her husband, provided that he cancels her vows immediately upon hearing them. If he delays in silence, her vow becomes irrevocably binding.
While many moderns are troubled by the power of men to override the vows of women, it is also striking that the Torah insists that the husband either use his power instantly, or lose it forever. Why? After all, if he has the authority to nullify her oath, then why can't he choose to exercise that power later on?