(Torah Portion Matos) Swearing

This week?s Torah portion speaks of the laws concerning oaths and vows.

The Torah states: ?According to whatever he expresses from his mouth he shall do.? Rashi cites a Medrash that states: Based on this, one might think that even if he swears to eat non Kosher food, he is bound by his word and must fulfill his vow. To teach us otherwise the Torah says, ?If one makes a vow to make a prohibition on himself,? through a vow, one can prohibit that which is permitted, but a vow cannot allow that which is already prohibited.

How about swearing to do that which one is already responsible to do?

The Talmud asks: What is the source that a person can take an oath to fulfill a Mitzvah? The Talmud answers by quoting a verse in Psalms, where King David testifies ?I have sworn and fulfilled to observe Your righteous laws.? Thus we see King David made an oath to observe the laws.

The Talmud then asks: How is it possible for one to take an oath to fulfill a Mitzvah? After all, the collective Jewish nation had already taken a binding oath at Mount Sinai to fulfill, the laws of the Torah. How then can one take an oath to fulfill a Mitzvah which he had already vowed to fulfill? After all a vow upon a vow is extraneous and non binding.

The Talmud answers: A person may take an oath to energize, strengthen and hasten himself to fulfill the Mitzvah, not necessarily to fulfill the command itself.

The Ben Ish Chai ? the Rabbi of Baghdad in the early 1900?s asks an interesting question: Why should a person feel more compelled to observe the oath that he utters, than to observe the oath to observe the Mitzva that he made at Mount Sinai? Just as his evil inclination will try to sway him from keeping the Mitzvah that he was committed to at Mount Sinai, it will try to keep him from fulfilling the personal oath that he utters to energize himself to do the Mitzvah.

The Ben Ish Chai explains that although the person recognizes that he is bound by oath to perform the Mitzvos given at Mount Sinai, the trouble is that the evil inclination tries to make him believe that in many situations the law is not applicable.

An example: If a poor person knows of a very wealthy person living an unethical lifestyle, he may rationalize that to steal money from him is not only not forbidden, it is actually a Mitzvah for it will minimize his ability to spend on sin and furthermore, the money taken will help feed and support his own family to live a righteous life.

Instead of falling prey to this ploy of the evil inclination, the person pulls himself together and takes an oath that he is going to fulfill the command of not stealing thus preventing any chance to rationalize to disregard the command.

The Ben Ish Chai explains that this scenario can happen regarding any Mitzvah. One may feel vulnerable to the evil inclination?s rationalizations that this mitzvah is not applicable due to ?unsubstantiated? circumstances. In these situations, taking an oath to perform the Mitzvah is binding. It was under these circumstances that King David declared such oaths in order to energize himself to fulfill the Mitzvos.

In the Book of Ruth, Boaz, King David?s great-grandfather and the leader of the nation, demonstrates this conduct. The book relates that Boaz was alone at night watching his granary. Ruth, at the behest of her mother-in-law, Naomi, appears and awakens a startled Boaz, asking him to facilitate a redemption process for her deceased husband Machlon, and in the process she would marry the relative/redeemer as well.

Boaz assures her that he will take care of the matter. (Which he did, and they eventually married.) Boaz tells Ruth to remain with him overnight and leave in the wee hours of the morning. He then took an oath not to touch her the entire night.

Says the Ben Ish Chai, Boaz was afraid that his evil inclination would implant in him some rationalization to have a relationship with Ruth during the night. He therefore secured his position of righteousness and devoutness by swearing not to succumb to temptation.
Wishing you a restful, peaceful
and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks