There’s a story of two elderly men who were childhood friends, but had not seen each other in many years. One day, they run into each other on the street, and are delighted to recognize one another. One of them lives in the area, so he invites the other into his home. They happily begin catching up, getting lost in their stories and jokes as the day goes on. The guest finally notices that it has become dark outside, so he asks his friend what time it is.

Parshas Matos begins with the discussion of vows. In the context of this discussion, the Torah commands us: “You shall not profane your words.” Rashi interprets this to mean that one should not make his words “chulin,” or profane. In other words, this is a general command against speaking d’varim b’teilim – meaningless words, wasted words. This seems like a strange prohibition. Why are meaningless words such an egregious problem? Lying, defamation, and lashon ha’ra are clearly harmful and negative; their prohibition is not surprising. Why, though, is wasting words so severe that it warrants specific mention? It appears to be neither harmful nor evil – simply unnecessary. Why, then, are wasted words so spiritually harmful? And in a deeper sense, why do we experience a unique pleasure in wasting words, simply talking for the sake of talking? In order to understand this, let us study the concept of speech.

I want the very best.” That’s what we tell ourselves, isn’t it? As human beings, we understand that there is a spectrum of quality for everything, and we want only the best. We desire the best relationships, teachers, friends, food, clothing, experiences – the best of everything. But what makes something the best? Sometimes, it’s the quantity; this brand supplies more of its product for the same price. But often, it’s the quality that makes the difference. When you pay an increased rate for a service, experience, or luxury, you do so with the assumption that you are receiving a higher quality product, one that is fundamentally improved from the basic, standard package. With this in mind, let us explore a unique idea connected to Parshas Eikev.

Throughout the Torah, there are many heroes with awe-inspiring ascents to greatness. When we think of Moshe Rabbeinu, we picture a burning bush, a dramatic confrontation with Pharaoh, and a spectacular splitting of the sea. When we consider Avraham, we imagine a man thrown into the flames, undergoing bris milah at 100 years of age, and the willingness to sacrifice his designated son on the altar. However, when we think of Pinchas, what do we see? The image is hazy, evoking conflicting emotions, and begging for explanation. Let us start from the very beginning of Parshas Pinchas, which follows immediately after the events of the previous parshah, Parshas Balak.

The Jewish divorce document, called a get, is written according to a very specific format. One such requirement is that it must be written across 12 lines. Tosafos (Gittin 2a) asks why this is so, first suggesting that perhaps it is because the word “get” has the g’matria (numerical value) of 12. Tosafos then gives another answer, one much more enigmatic: In total, there are 12 lines separating the five books of the Chamishah Chumshei Torah, as there are four lines of separation between every sefer in the Five Books of Torah. Since a get is a document of separation, it therefore adopts this feature of separation from the sefer Torah as well, requiring 12 lines. This is a compelling answer, because the Torah is the original “document” of the world. It therefore seems reasonable to model the get, a halachic document, off of the foundational document of the Torah. The document of separation, therefore, contains 12 lines, corresponding to the 12 lines of separation in the Torah.

The power and proper use of intellect is an oft misunderstood concept in the Western world, making this week’s parshah all the more important to understand. Parshas Chukas introduces us to the paradigmatic chok, the mitzvah of Parah Adumah (the Red Heifer). A chok is commonly understood in contrast to a mishpat. A mishpat represents a rational, intuitive Torah law, such as the prohibitions against murder and stealing, and the command to give charity. Such laws appeal to the human intellect and align with the innate moral compass present within all human beings, irrespective of religion, race, or ethnicity. A chok, on the other hand, refers to a Torah law that seemingly defies human logic and rational explanation, such as the Parah Adumah, Kashrus (Jewish dietary laws), and Shaatnez (the prohibition of mixing wool and linen).