Weekly Sidra: Matot (Tribes)
Torah Portion: Bamidbar/ Numbers 30:2-32:42
Haftorah: Yermiyahu / Jeremiah 1:1-2:3
Bamidbar 30:3(2) If a man vows a vow to Hashem or swears an oath to prohibit himself, he shall not violate all that has come from his mouth he shall do.
The laws of vows and oaths are extensive and take up many volumes of books to explain properly. Within this chapter of the Torah the sages and chachamin have rendered the halacha of taking vows (נדרים nedarim) and oaths (שבועות sh’vuot). It is no simple task to make a vow or swear an oath to prohibit or take upon oneself a certain matter. One would think that what comes out of our mouth is what is binding upon the person who said it, but Hashem in the next verse gives us laws about hearing what was said, restraining from annulling, the power to annul a vow from a person who has authority over them, etc. It is a complicated matter of what comes from the mouth because it can be interpreted different by the speaker than from someone who hears it and depending on the nature of what was said, it can be annulled or it can stand.
Below I have compiled a list of halacha that pertains to vows and oaths. It is NOT meant be a definitive means of determining whether a person is under a vow or if it needs to annulled, but to give a quick reference of basic matters of nedarim. It is to show the reader that it is not as simple as one thinks to bind a vow or be loosed from a vow and that a person with the correct understanding of Torah and halacha should be consulted in these matters before a person enters into a vow. It is preferable NOT to vow or swear according to Maran Yeshua and that is also the opinion of the our Sages and Rishonim.
But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. (Mat 5:34-37 ESV)
One should not take a Neder, lest he transgress it.(Rif and Rosh 1:8 on Nederim 9a)
A Kosher person should not vow or swear about anything. If one has money to give to Aniyim or redeem captives or such matters, he should give it immediately. If not, he should be quiet until he attains the money. If people are pledging Tzedakah and he needs to pledge with them, he should say ‘Bli Neder.’ (Rosh ibid)
You should distance yourself from taking an oath. (Kitzur shulchan Aruch 67:2)
- It must be expressed in a prescribed way
- If something is normally issur (such as vowing not to eat lobster or hekdeshthen the vow is not in force and need not be nullified (yoreh deah 205)
- This is only for a person who understands Torah well
- If an unlearned person vows the above it stands (needs to be annulled by a Tamid Chakcham or a panel of 3) (Nedarim 3:1)
- If a man forbids something that cannot be made in actuality such as making Jewish wine “Nesech” or Jewish bread like Kuthite bread, it doesn’t stand unless it is said if certain stipulations are made.
- There is a difference between this neder and a k’nas (self imposed penalty).
- It must be verbalized and not just in the mind and both mind and mouth must be in agreement.(Siftey Kohen 210:3)
- If 10 are not available then 3 may perform the nullification (Yoreh Deah 210:2 in Hagah)
- If the vow was nullified in the dream on must still get in nullified once awake sense dreams have some nonsense in them. (Siftey Kohen 210:4)
- If a woman made a vow in a dream, she too, needs to get 10 people to nullify the vow. (ibid 210:5)
- The condition must be clearly verbalized before making the vow. If it is not verbalized the vow stands immediately. (YD 211; turey zahav 211:2)
- If he did not recall this statement, the vow is voided by the statement.(YD 211:4 in hagah.)
- However if he made the vow and had an idea that someone else may understand it different the condition cannot be used to nullify
- The Sages rule one needs a heter (loophole) even when the vow is something intangible. (YD 213:1)
- One needs to have in mind and verbalize this is not a neder and it is only for a time to deny themselves a permitted thing.
- If one is under the impression that the thing a person is denying themselves is forbidden(issur) and finds out it truly is permitted, it is a mistaken neder and no heter is needed (some say that a panel of 3 is needed even though it was a mistake). (YD 214:1)
- If there is a change of mind, a heter is needed to discontinue the action.
- The person is to get lashes for such a neder and has to perform the mitzvah. (YD 215:1)
- An oath not to perform a mitzvah is valid and stands.(YD 239; Siftey Kohen 215:5) This in regards to a Torah mitzvah and not a rabbinic mitzvah which will need to be absolved. (see Rabbeniu Bachya for more detail on this ruling of neder vs. sh’vuah)
Note that not all of the vows CAN be nullified and one should not seek to annul it unless the need is great. When it is said that a heter is needed or a vow needs to be nullified does not mean it will be. One will need to go to a qualified teacher (preferably ones Rebbe or teacher if available) or one of greater stature and learning. This is because they will understand and be able to work within the Torah to find an opening (patach) with your reasoning or actions for taking the vow in the first place. However, when it is required to go before a panel of three it is because they need to agree on the reasoning and the patach that they may find. Usually a Talmid Chacham (Torah Scholar) is sufficient to go to singularly to have a vow nullified. However, it should be noted that it is not a light thing to say a neder/vow. The Torah states, “You shall not take the name of your G-d in vain,”is interpreted to say that you shall not take His Name in a vain (oath/vow). For he will not forgive it. It also states, “Your vows shall you perform.” The Master severely chastised His generation for taking vain oaths and vows and attributing it to not understanding Hashem or the Torah in many ways. Many were vowing on objects without remembering that it was Hashem Who was above all those objects. And David said, “I will perform my vow in the congregation of my people.”
Our words hold power of life and death, which means we absolve or condemn ourselves before Hashem and man. We should take note that silence is better than speech when it comes to this matter for who wants to stand before any judge whether Divine or otherwise and explain why foolishness was spoken. Ya’akov HaTzadik, of blessed memory, instructed us of why this is so. He explains,
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.(1:26)
For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! (3:1-5)ESV
In the matter of oaths and vows we should take the advice of the sages and not promise things, but use the words “b’li neder”(without a vow) or just “bezrat Hashem” (with the help of G-d) that we will perform or not perform an act. Today, in our lowered state of humanity, we should take note of this as not to fall from carelessness or emotional speech. We should temper our speech and be soft spoken and well thought out and not be one who speaks quickly without thought of the consequence of what may or may not come out of our mouths. With G-d’s help, we can accomplish these things, be modest in our ways, and hasten the coming of Moshiach Yeshua.
 Neder(נדר ) : Imposing a prohibition upon oneself which is usually permitted to enjoy or benefit from.
 I used Yalkut Meam Loez (R. Yitzchok Magriso) as a basis for my list. The source in parenthese are mainly the sources listed in the book. Yalkut Meam Loez, Moznaim Publishing Corporation copyright ©1991
 Hekdesh (הֶקְדֵשׁ ), consecrated property, property dedicated to the needs of the Temple; in post-talmudic times the term hekdesh without qualification (setam hekdesh) came to mean property set aside for tzedakah or to fulfill any other mitzvah.
 Forbidden wine of non-Jews
 Kuthite bread was also forbidden (see Kehati Mishnah Shabbat 1:4) Also see my article on this http://thejewishcarpenter613.blogspot.com/2011/04/parasha-acharei.html
 Yad Nedarim chpt 1, Yoreh De’ah 205:2
 Heter היתר permission from a Torah scholar or panel of 3/10 men to annul the vow.
 Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 67:2,3
 Shemot 20:7
 See Rashi. Swear something foolishly that is not true.
 Ps. 116:14
 Matthew 12:36
Writen by The Jewish Carpenter (דוד בן גבריאל)
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