At the start of this week’s parshah, Matot, we are introduced to the laws of annulment of vows. At that point, the tribes of Israel, usually called shevatim, are instead called matot.

Why the different word? What connection does it have to annulment of vows?

Though the two words shevet and mateh are alike in meaning—roughly translated 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. A mateh, 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 they plan to use. The conditions the wood was subjected to will have an effect on its quality.

For example, reclaimed wood (decades-old wood that has been used in construction, etc.) is sought after because it has qualities not found in new lumber.

Next, the craftsman will use his tools to saw, drill, chisel or sand the wood, bringing out its true natural beauty and function.

Back to vows. Why would a person take a vow? Perhaps he or she has a weakness that brings this person to commit a sin. Taking a vow of abstinence is helpful because of 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’s 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 is then unnecessary and can be annulled.

Each of us is a mateh. G‑d puts us through all kinds of trials—some happy and some painful, some pure joy and some that involve suffering. However, we know that it is G‑d, 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 nation. G‑d 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 that we are truly magnificent.