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Parashat Matot Masei

Saturday 22 July 2017 Tamuz 28 5777

(Apologies - I was away overseas and did not have connectivity for most of the week. Hence this delayed posting.)

Num 30:2–32:42; Jeremiah 1:1–2:3; John 18-19 Num 33:1–36:13; Jeremiah 2:4–28; 3:4; 4:1–2; John 20–21


Paul enjoins married men to “love your wives and do not be embittered against them.” (Colossians 3:19) The bible never commands husbands to “make your wives submit to you.” The mitzvah of submitting to one’s husband belongs solely to the woman. It is the wife’s mitzvah, not the husband’s. A husband need not fret that his wife is not submissive to him. That is her business, not his.

In Numbers chapter 30, we see that the husband the authority to annul his wife’s vows. Difficult as it may be for us to admit, the word of G-d is decidedly patriarchal. A husband does have authority over his wife. Paul concurs. He tells the Ephesian women “to be subject to your own husbands as to the lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Messiah also is the head of the assembly.” (Ephesians 5:22–23)

Similarly, Sha’ul tells the married women of Colosse to, “be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” (Colossians 3:18) In Titus, he encourages the young married women to “to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of god will not be dishonored.” (Titus 2:4–5) Shimon Peter also instructs married women that they are to “be submissive to your own husbands,” (1 Peter 3:1) even if they are unbelievers. The biblical position on family hierarchy is unanimous.

Why do we have a problem with masculine headship when it is so clear in scripture? The answer is that men have abused their authority. Being fallen and sinful creatures, we know of endless examples of bad husbands and fathers who have lorded over their wives and children.

The Torah model is a husband who loves his wife, “just as Messiah also loved the assembly and gave himself up for her…” (Ephesians 5:25). The biblical husband is to nourish and cherish his wife. One cannot cherish a person and at the same time bully and force her into submission. Messiah-like headship is defined as servant-hood. Lording it over another person is something that the master ascribes to the ways of the pagans. (Matthew 20:25–28)

The bible does not give a man license to force his wife to obey him. Instead, he is to love her and treat her as “a fellow heir of the grace of life.” She is his partner, not his servant.

Shimon says that a brutish, authoritarian man who does not show his wife the dignity of being his “fellow heir” and live with her “in an understanding way” is not worthy of even having his prayers answered. (1 Peter 3:7).

After all, if he does not listen to his wife’s entreaties, so why should G-d listen to his?

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