At the start of this weeks parsha, by the laws of Annulment of Vows, the tribes of Israel, usually called shvatim, instead are called matos.
Why the different word? What connection does it have to annulment of vowes?
Though the two words shevet and matteh are alike in meaning, roughly translate as stick or staff, they have fundamental differences.
Shevet refers to a branch still attached or recently detached from the tree. It is still wet inside. Matteh however has been separated for a while and has had time to dry and harden.
A craftsman who wishes to create something of quality needs to be aware of the moisture content of the wood. The conditions the wood was subject to will also have an effect on the quality of the wood.
Today for example. Reclaimed wood (old wood once used in construction, resold and reused) is very sought after for its qualities that are not found in new lumber.
Next , the craftsman using his tools to saw, drill, chisel etc. the wood, brings out the true natural beauty and function of the wood.
Now, why would a person take a vow. When a person has a weakness bringing him or her to commit a sin. Taking a vow to abstain from it is helpful because of the strength and the fear of breaking that vow. However the vow doesn't change the person. For someone to annul this kind of vow seems counterproductive.
That is where the wise man comes in. The job of the wise man who does the annulment, is to help the one who took the vow work on himself to become stronger. To bring out strength from deep within to overcome the weakness. The vow would then be unnecessary.
Each of us is a matteh. HaShem puts us through all different kinds of situations, some happy and in some we suffer. However, we know that it is Hashem, the Ultimate Craftsman, who is putting us through these conditions and that He helps us overcome any obstacles he puts before us. We know that He will bring out our greatest potential.
The same is true of the Jewish people. Hashem has put us through all kinds of difficult conditions. Though we don't know why, we do know that he has a plan and that what He does is good.
By now we are an ancient piece of wood, we have been through so much, we are truly magnificent.