Forethoughts and Afterthoughts.
Commentary on the weekly Torah reading.
In memory of Father, Yosef Ben Zelig.
March 25th 1911 - May 2nd 2008
In memory of Mother, Nechama Bas Tzvi Hirsh.
June 9th 1925 - April 16th 2003
In memory of Uncle, Moshe Binyamin Ben Tzvi Hirsh.
December 12 1929 - February 2nd 2010
In Loving Memory of Moreinu Horav Shmuel Yaakov Weinberg, Rosh HaYeshiva Ner Yisroel
Matos (Numbers 30-32)
30:3 If a man utters a Ďnederí (to prohibit something on himself using the name of / to) G-D or if he utters a vow (to do something or to) make a prohibition upon himself (and not do something then) he may not nullify his words. He must do what came out of his mouth.
A vow can be made obligate a person to do something or to not do something.
The following are some of the many laws that pertain to vows.
1. Breaking a vow requires atonement, which may be lashes or bringing a sacrifice.
2. A vow to do something or to not do something cannot take effect on top of an earlier vow that obligates him to do or to not do the same thing. For example, if a person makes a vow to drive to Cincinnati on the next day and he doesnít then he needs atonement. However, if he makes this vow two times, one right after the next, and he doesnít fulfill it then he needs only one atonement. This is because the second vow did not take effect.
With the above rule, it is interesting to note that if someone makes a vow to fulfill a Torah commandment then this vow does not take effect. This is because we all are previously obligated by the vow that we took by Mount Sinai many years ago to fulfill all of the Torahís commandments. Itís a case of a vow trying to take effect on top of an earlier vow, which has no effect.
The Talmud provides the following discussion about vows: Rabbi Gidel said in the name of Rav, ďHow do we know that we may take a vow to fulfill a commandment? We know this from the following verse: ĎI took an oath and I will fulfill (it) to guard your righteous laws (Tehilim / Psalms 119:106).í But arenít we already under a vow from Mount Sinai (to fulfill commandments? How can this vow have any significance?) Rather, this (verse) comes to teach us that a person is permitted (to use a vow) to motivate himself (to fulfill commandments)Ē (Nedarim 8a).
The discussion is puzzling and begs explanation.
The Steipler Goan suggests the following.
The Talmud is not speaking about someone who is lazy and wants to use a vow to stimulate himself and do what he is supposed to do. Rather, itís speaking about someone who is afraid that he will dream up a bogus reason why he is not obligated to fulfill a certain commandment, such as to eat matzah on the first night of Passover.
Because he knows when push comes to shove that he is prone to rationalize, it is meritorious for him to seize the moment while he is still thinking clearly and make a vow to eat matzah on the first night of Passover.
Fast forward to Passover and itís time to eat matzah. Sure enough, a reason comes to our friendís mind why he is not obligated by the Torah to eat matzah.
Now, either this is a valid reason or it isnít. If the reason has no validity then he must eat because of the Torah commandment to eat matzah on the first night of Passover.
But if the reason is indeed valid, then the commandment does not apply. But if the commandment doesnít obligate him, then the vow has room to take effect and he must eat matzah to fulfill his vow.
His vow protects him from rationalizing away a commandment and this is what the Talmud in Nedarim is referring to.